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Should Parliament ratify trade agreements?

By Joan Akello

This is the debate The Southern and Eastern African Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) sparked off in a consultative meeting it held today.

Uganda has signed a number of treaties and is still negotiating some  which include the European Union –East Africa Community(EAC)  Economic Partnership Agreements(EPAS), The US-EAC Trade Investment Partnership Agreement and other bilateral ones with Bilateral Investment Treaties with Countries like Belgian, France, China, Denmark, China, Italy, and Netherlands .

Such agreements seek to promote trade and secure Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) which is seen as important for the country’s economic development but Martin Luther Munu, SEATINI programme Officer says that they also have implications on Social Transformation through the impacts they create on industrial development and employment creation, people’s livelihoods, revenue and the overall policy space for undertaking development objectives.

This policy space can only be protected and made more democratic because Parliament is not involved in the current ratification process except for treaties that relate to armistice, neutrality or peace and there is therefore need to amend the Ratification of Treaties Act 1998 that empowers the Cabinet to ratify all treaties made by the country.

Not only will this ratification process enable a wider consultation among stakeholders but will also cause debate  to scrutinize the long term effects of  ratifying such agreements according to  Ambassador Nathan Irumba, the Chief Executive Director of SEATINI.

But Babra Turyasingura, a legal officer from Uganda Law Reform Commission says ratification is the prerogative of the president and people should not compete for that power after all when treaties are negotiated internationally or when it has already been passed, parliament cannot change much.

Mitooma Woman Member of Parliament Jovia Kamateeka who also chairs the Human Rights Committee says the president does not have absolute powers  because  MPs can inform him about their reservations and   some of them have  been  considered in previous treaties for instance about legalizing abortion in the Maputo protocol which they opposed except for special medical reasons.

Also in attendance was Moses Ogwal , director policy at Private Sector Foundation Uganda, Jane Nalunga the SEATINI , Country director Kyegegwa woman MP Flavia Kabahenda  the chairperson of the parliamentary trade committee, Among the Eastern Youth representative, Godfrey Ssali  Uganda Manufacturers Association’s policy and advocacy officer and officials from the ministry of trade and activists.

By the end of the meeting, there was a consensus that Members of Parliament, technocrats in the various ministries in this case trade industry and cooperatives to consult the various key stakeholders before the President ratifies any agreement to ensure rights and interests of investors balance with their obligations to Uganda and its citizens regarding growth of the local industry, jobs and sustainable development and also regional integration.

SEATINI is still hopeful for an amendment of the ratification act and also the Investment Code, 2010.  Kabahenda says the latter is currently under review.

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