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Norway, East Africa in talks for free trade agreement

NAIROBI, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Norway and the East African Community (EAC) member states are set to hold exploratory talks on a comprehensive free trade agreement, a Norwegian diplomat said on Thursday.

Norway's Ambassador to Kenya Victor Ronneberg told Xinhua in Nairobi that Norway and East Africa currently have a trade pact that will expire in 2021.

"Both parties have expressed interest to have a trade deal along the lines of the Economic Partnership Agreement that has been signed between the European Union (EU) and the EAC," Ronneberg said during a courtesy call to the Safi International Kenya.

Norway is among the European nations such as Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland that are not members of the EU. They are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

The ambassador said the current trade deal between EFTA and Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda (EAC states) offers products and service from either regions limited access to each other markets.

"However, EAC products will not continue to access Norwegian markets if they graduate to become middle income states," he said. According to the envoy, the talks will take place in phases.

Ronneberg said the level of trade between Kenya and Norway remains way below the potential.

Data from the Norwegian Embassy in Kenya indicates that the Nordic nation provided 4 million U.S. dollars in aid to Kenya in 2014.

"Most of the funds were used to assist Kenya to implement its new constitution as well as promote gender equality," said Ronnerberg, noting that Norwegian investors are increasingly looking at Kenya as an attractive investment destination.

"This is due to the country's stable macro-economic environment as well as growing middle class," he said.

Norwegian investments in Kenya are concentrated in the hospitality and energy sectors.

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