ARUSHA, Tanzania, January 25, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Sweden's Minister for Trade Hon. Eva Bjorling today visited the East African Community headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania where she held wide ranging discussions with the EAC Deputy Secretary General in charge of Productive and Social Sectors Mr. Jean Claude Nsengiyumva. The discussions centred on trade and development.
Hon. Bjorling, who was accompanied by the Swedish Ambassador to Tanzania, His Excellency Lennarth Hjelmaker and 10 other officials, hailed the progress registered by EAC in the integration project and reaffirmed Sweden's commitment to support various EAC initiatives at its (Sweden's) state level or within the EU framework.
She extended an invitation to the regional bloc to take part in an investment conference due in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, later this year, observing that getting businesspeople to talk to each other would set the stage for increased trade between Sweden and EAC.
The Minister also noted that EAC had a critical task of communicating the benefits of regional integration to the ordinary East African citizen, saying: “When people see the benefits it will help them change their mindsets”.
The EAC Deputy Secretary General Mr. Nsengiyumva on his part hailed Swedish support to EAC programmes especially SIDA, and briefed the Swedish delegation on progress made in the EAC integration, stating that the integration process was moving at good speed despite encountering a few challenges from time to time.
He informed the Swedish Minister that the bloc had successfully instituted a Customs Union in 2005, and followed that with the commencement of the Common Market in 2010, whose implementation Mr. Nsengiyumva said was underway.
He added that the region was steadily progressing in negotiations for a Monetary Union, which is the next stage of integration before it ultimately becomes a political federation. On the Monetary Union, he affirmed that EAC was ready to learn from the Eurozone and the difficulties the Euro is facing.
“We know what is happening with the Euro... We think those are good lessons for us,” the Deputy Secretary General said, and assured the delegation the EAC had shown it was treating this matter with utmost seriousness by sending its Monetary Union negotiating team on a study tour of the Eurozone.
Mr. Nsengiyumva also took time to update his visitors on various other ongoing initiatives being pursued by the EAC, which include the One Stop Border Post initiative, regional infrastructure development projects and the planned EAC Single Tourist Visa, as well as plans for the introduction of a Third Generation East African Passport.
To address the challenge of multiple memberships of the Partner States in different regional economic communities, the Deputy Secretary General said EAC along with COMESA and SADC had formed the Tripartite Framework hinged on three pillars namely; Market integration based on the Tripartite Free Trade Area (FTA); Infrastructure Development to enhance connectivity and reduce costs of doing business as well as Industrial development to address the productive capacity constraints.
The COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite was established in 2005 with the main objective of strengthening and deepening economic integration of the southern and eastern Africa region. This is being achieved through various initiatives aimed at harmonizing policies and programmes of the three regional economic communities (RECs).
On trade, he reaffirmed that the EAC was ready to conclude talks on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) which the bloc is currently negotiating with the European Union.
“Where we are now, we think we can finalise the deal,” Mr. Nsengiyumva asserted, emphasizing that negotiations were going on well and an agreement would be agreed soon.
The Deputy Secretary General also concurred with the Swedish Minister about the need to increase public awareness of the EAC but was quick to add that the EAC leadership had already made useful interventions in that regard by stating in the EAC Treaty that the Community would be people-centred and private-sector driven.
To operationalize these Treaty proclamations, he informed the Swedish delegation that EAC was finalising a dialogue framework to enhance interactions between the Secretariat and East African civil society/private sector through a forum that will be created to promote greater participation.