Trade deal sets Africa on road to a common market is one step closer leaders move to create of common

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AFTER TWO failed attempts in the past year, the leaders of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania signed a framework agreement yesterday establishing the East African Community, which is intended to lead to a common market similar to that of the European Union.

The day-long ceremony in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha was attended by Presidents Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania. The secretary general of the Organisation of African Unity, Salim Salim, was also present.

The signing ceremony had been postponed twice before, in November 1998 and July this year, to give the three countries time to work on contentious provisions, mostly relating to trade. Uganda and Tanzania oppose plans setting zero tariffs on imports, claiming Kenya would be the main beneficiary.But after 30 months of talks it was agreed to defer the issue.

Of the three, Kenya's economy is the strongest, with a relatively sound manufacturing sector and more advanced infrastructure. It sells more to its neighbours than it buys; the trade balance ratio between Nairobi and Kampala is 20 to 1.

The Community replaces an earlier pact in November 1994. It will regulate tariffs and trade and facilitate the movement of goods and people across common borders. The treaty covers co-operation in investment and industrial and socio-economic development, and integration in areas such as agriculture, resources, tourism, wildlife, health, social and cultural activities and judicial affairs.

The aim is to establish a customs union, a common market, a monetary union and ultimately a political federation embracing 80 million people.