By Joan Akello
Civil society has petitioned the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) to include the interests of the region while signing agreements at parliament.
The group led by Southern and East African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) presented two petitions, East African Community –US Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement and Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), to Margaret Zziwa, the EALA speaker on May 28.
Nathan Irumba, the chief executive officer of SEATINI presented the petition. He says there is proliferation of agreements to narrow negotiation space for nations and stakeholders. He added that the template is generally tailored to protect and promote the rights of US investors without addressing their obligations and the rights of the EAC countries.
He cited broad definition of investment, national treatment, performance requirements, and dispute settlement as some of the contentions articles in the EA-US TIPA. He says negotiators should agitate for exhausting our local courts before seeking arbitration at international level.
The group petitioned the speaker of the Ugandan parliament last month on the same issue but because the East African Community laws overrule national laws, the CSOs are now seeking EALA’s intervention.
“The one who drafts has 50 percent advantage, in this case the US,” and because Irumba says, “The US has the tendency of saying, take it or leave it, EALA must consider whether this agreement will help East Africa achieve the different visions.”
In the second petition, Irumba said intellectual property should be given depending on the level of development. In short, the extension should be granted by the TRIPS Council by July 1 until a country ceases to be an LDC.
The previous extensions of transition periods granted to LDCs namely, 7.5 years for intellectual property rights relating to products other than pharmaceuticals, and 11 years for pharmaceuticals have proven to be inadequate.
“We insist that any extension should be unconditional with no roll back clause as such a clause would constrain LDCs from providing reduced level of protection where appropriate.”
The CSO say the LDC transition period as article 66 (1) of TRIPS agreement stipulates is to enable LDCs develop their technological base and overcome capacity constraints that retard their development.
“In order to benefit from the TRIPS flexibilities, we call upon the East African Legislative Assembly to advise the EAC LDC partner states governments to urgently domesticate the TRIPS flexibilities in the IP legislations both at the national and regional level as they are not self executing,” Irumba said.
Zziwa received the petitions and said she will present it to the committee on trade and investment to handle the issues the CSOs raised. Also present were Dan Kidega who sits on that committee and Mike Sebalu a commissioner of EALA
“EAC is in a very unfortunate position. I am concerned that implementation if these agreements will touch human life especially drugs and food because,” she added, “We do not envisage our people having the same margin and competing against US investors in the US.”