SADC, COMESA and the EAC: conflicting regional and trade agendas

SADC, COMESA and the EAC: conflicting regional and trade agendas

Will EPAs undermine regional integration processes?

Several African countries are involved in regional trade agreements as well as in economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with the European Union (EU). This paper deems that the regional and EPA trade formations are often not complementary in the case of eastern and southern Africa. The paper seeks to outline the challenges that faced the East African Community (EAC) and the regional economic communities (RECs) that overlap it, in terms of the interaction between these regional and international trade fronts.

The paper points to some concerns that EPAs are likely to undermine regional integration processes because regional markets will probably be opened up to the EU before they are consolidated internally. In this case, if African groupings are not sufficiently integrated among themselves before they sign the final EPA agreements, the conclusion of an EPA could potentially undermine regional harmonisation.

The paper argues that the only comprehensive solution to the dual regional trade membership dilemmas appears to let states choose between their bloc memberships. The paper indicates that the overlapping memberships can generate many problems and uncertainties. For example, conflicts in jurisdiction are created where two different integration organisations have similar mandates. Similarly, as the integration agendas and obligations differ from one REC to the next, multiple memberships often lead to a country having to implement conflicting obligations.

Another possible solution may be to bypass the current block by trying to get RECs to agree on the same EPA position towards the EU. The paper also suggests rationalising the overlapping trade bloc memberships. It thinks that this will be more important for regional integration and trade in the long run than even the harmonisation of the EPA memberships. In this context, the paper views various possible scenarios for this process.

The paper concludes that although the three affected southern and eastern African RECs may have experience in managing parallel trading arrangements, the management consumes additional resources to integrate their dualities. The EAC in particular appears to have narrowly escaped such additional complexity. The paper threatens that combined administrative, political, and financial burdens of the multiple agendas can immobilise the effective functioning of the RECs’ own regional integration agendas. This is not to mention the potentially negative revenue and trade-related impacts of the EPAs themselves on the various member states. Indeed, the African states need to remain focused on establishing their integration and stimulating regional economic growth and government revenue in order to succeed with their regional integration agendas.