By Helen Nyambura-Mwaura

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NAIROBI, Sept 28 (Reuters) The European Union has offered an African trade bloc duty- and quota-free market access for all products except sugar in a new trade deal now being negotiated, the trade body's head said on Friday.

Sixteen Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) members are in talks with the European Union to replace a preferential market access deal that contravenes World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

''Europe has already indicated that it is willing to give Africa duty- and quota-free market access to Europe from January expect for sugar,'' Erastus Mwencha, COMESA's secretary general, told a press conference. ''They are now waiting for our offer.'' The bloc will meet in October and is expected to offer the EU market access after 10 years but with a list of excepted products, like goods whose production is subsidised in Europe or those important to weak African economies, he said.

The EU has been discussing the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) for five years with six groups of mostly former European colonies in the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) regions.

The new deals will replace preferential deals the WTO has ruled illegal and says must by scrapped by the end of the year.

Oxfam and other poverty campaign groups say the deals are damaging to the ACP nations and will expose their companies and farmers to fierce European competition.

They held small protests in European and African cities on Thursday urging for the negotiations to be halted.

Mwencha said talks between the EU and the eastern and southern Africa regional bloc -- to which 16 COMESA nations belong -- would not be over by the deadline but the trade aspect of it would be in place in line with WTO requirements.

''We will not be able to finish,'' he said. ''There's a lot to be done and we should not be slaves of time. We need to be thorough and take into account interests of our economies.'' FREE TRADE AREA Mwencha said Seychelles had joined COMESA's free trade area bringing the total number to 14.

The other COMESA members in its free trade area are Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The remaining six -- Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Swaziland and Uganda -- are yet to make a decision, citing loss of revenues and competition from more advanced economies.

The bloc plans a customs union in 2008.

Mwencha said COMESA was likely to extend a sugar importation quota waiver awarded to Kenya to enable it to carry out reforms in its inefficient sector.

''Barring anything strange happening, Kenya's sugar industry will have extensions come February,'' he said.


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