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EAC tipped on how to negotiate trade treaties

(L-R) Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta, Yoweri Museveni & Paul Kagame

East African countries should always do impact assessments and look out for rewards in each agreement they negotiate with their partners, trade experts have said.  

Dr Francis Mangeni, the director of Trade Customs and Monetary Affairs, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), says EAC countries ought to negotiate from a point of strength, stating the performance requirements and sequencing of bargaining conditions.    

“Before you go into these negotiations, you need to prepare and do your homework. This will tell you how to structure your plans,” he said during a regional stakeholder consultative meeting. The workshop was held under the theme of Promoting pro-development investment policies and agreements in the EAC, and was organised by SEATINI Uganda with support from Diakonia, a development organisation. 

A performance requirement refers to things that tell an investor what a country’s priorities are. Sequencing bargaining is a condition where investors are given preferential treatment according to a country’s national laws.

While presenting a paper on investment and sustainable development in regional integration within the EAC community, Mangeni said:

“Before an investor enters into a country, he or she should be subjected to performance requirements. There is no country on earth that gives anyone a right of entry into their country for the sake.”

Ambassador Nathan Irumba, the SEATINI executive director, said thinking long-term as opposed to short-term investment will add value to the country. 

“There is a quest for investments in the partner states, but the question is can we have the right investments?” Irumba asked. “Let’s have a vision. Let’s not be advocates of an agenda we can’t understand,” Irumba said.

Abubakar Muhammad Moki, the commissioner Policy Development and Capacity Building, Uganda Cabinet Secretariat in the Office of the President, urged government officials to desist from operating in what he called silos, saying it will bring conflicts.

“Most ministry department mandates are clear, but people start conflicting and misinterpreting issues to suit their selfish interests,” he said. 

“We should not negotiate agreements with opinions and at the end of the day, you end up creating other problems,” Moki said
East African Legislative Assembly MP Mike Sebalu said: “An investment treaty should serve the basic interest of the people, not investments that are going to exploit our people and damage the environment.”

John Simbwa, the MP for Makindye East, who sits on the committee of legal and parliamentary affairs, said states should build synergies between all stakeholders and develop a system of evaluating the performance of treaties that have been signed.

“Not all investment treaties lead to sustainable developments. We need to put laws in place, but they should not be influenced by multinationals,” Simbwa said.

Martin Okumu from the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UNCCI) noted that lack of a minimum wage and high borrowing rates have continued to impact heavily on Ugandan workers who are paid miserable wages by the mushrooming investors and traders respectively.

Okumu also stressed the need to set up a minimum wage and harmonize the lending rates to Ugandan traders to mitigate competition from foreign investors.

The World Investment Report 2013 of The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) recommends that any investment agreement a country is entering into must be examined based on how it balances state commitments with investor obligations.

To achieve this in East Africa, a draft EAC Framework and Investment Model Treaty has been developed, and will be used to guide the region in negotiating investment treaties with third parties.

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