NGOS’ want EAC-US Trade Agreement Reviewed

Dr. Richard Sezibera

Civil Society Organisations are calling on Parliament to rethink the East African Community and US trade Investment Partnership Agreement.

The CSOs working on trade and development-related issues led by the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute note with concern that the process of negotiating the treaty is undemocratic and haphazard.

In a petition to the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, the group of 21 CSOs lament that the US has presented its template on a take-it-or-leave-it attitude as opposed to round table negotiations aimed at benefiting both parties.

On June 14th 2012 the Ministers responsible for trade matters in the EAC partner states and the United States trade representatives met on the margins of the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum in Washington D.C. They agreed to begin consultations on the partnership with Africa Trade and Investment Agreement, which seeks to build on trade and investment framework agreement and AGOA.

Ambassador Nathan Irumba, the Executive Director SEATINI is concerned that the US is negotiating on the basis of the 2012 US Model Bilateral Investment treaty which has already been submitted to the East African Community.

CSOs argue that this template is generally tailored to protect and promote the rights of US investors without addressing their obligations and the rights of the EAC countries. They are thus calling on Parliament to ensure that the interests of the nation are protected and promoted in the negotiations. This should be done through a more proactive role by discussing analytically and in a non-partisan manner.

Speaker Kadaga expressed dismay that most agreements signed by government lack input from Parliament but only run to them to ratify the agreements. She emphasises the need for Uganda to be involved in agreements right from the start to agree on the parameters and later implement the agreements.

The CSOs also want Uganda and the EAC to have their own investment model that is anchored in their development objectives and priorities to enable the region to negotiate with the US from an informed point of view.

They cite the Uganda Investment Code which they say is still work in progress and that the EAC does not have in place a joint investment policy to use as a basis to advance the regio’s interests during the negotiations.

They argue that Rwanda, a signatory to the US investment treaty, poses a challenge which should be addressed to ensure that EAC speaks with one voice in the negotiations.

The negotiations are also undertaken on the erroneous assumption that both the EAC and US are equal.

Makindye East MP John Ssimbwa, who is the chairperson of the trade and industry committee of Parliament, says there is need for open trade as a principle instead of the hidden motives that most foreign organisations come with.

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