European lawmakers have launched a campaign to stop Burundi becoming a beneficiary of a free trade agreement between the European Union and the East African Community (EAC) because of human rights violations in that country.

Should the campaign to exclude Bujumbura from signing the trade deal suceed, it would boost economic sanctions against the regime of President Pierre Nkurunziza.

European aid to Burundi remains suspended on the grounds that Nkurunziza’s third term violates principles of democracy and that violence in the country and the actions of the security forces amount to gross violation of human rights, which does not qualify Burundi to benefit from trade.

The European Parliament lawmakers travelled to Nairobi over the past week for talks with top Kenyan trade officials in search of an alternative to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

The EU is looking for alternatives that would allow Kenya to continue trading with the bloc because it is the only East African Community country at risk of paying higher export taxes to the European market if a deal extending the duty-free benefits is not extended by October.

Bernd Lange, chairperson of the European Parliament’s international trade committee, said the possibility of having no agreement between the EU and the EAC could “hurt trade”.

The lawmakers want Burundi excluded from the trade agreement, but doing so will hurt the interest of Kenyan exporters of farm produce to the European market.

Kenya is willing to sign the EPA, but neighbouring Tanzania, which has also been negotiating the deal with the EU, insists it will not sign the trade agreement because of the outcome of the British referendum to exit the European Union.

“This is not our favourite,” Lange said, regretting the possibility of excluding Burundi and Tanzania holding out on the deal. “The clear approach is to give a push to Tanzania and to try to improve the situation in Burundi and bring the country back on the path to democracy.”

During their visit to Nairobi, a member of the Brussels-based Parliament, Marie Arena, said although the East African countries had problems with Tanzania agreeing to sign the agreement, the EU members also had a problem with Burundi being party to the deal because of the sanctions against its leaders.

“We have a big problem with Burundi,” Arena said.