It’s 23 years since the re-establishment of East African Community (EAC). And time to address what more we collectively need. To do to realise the dream of East Africa. Being a prosperous and vibrant economic bloc.
Our bloc is widely recognised as the most integrated. And fastest growing regional economic bloc in Africa.
It has been 17 years since the formation of the Customs Union. And 12 years since the implementation of the Common Market protocol.
And a tremendous amount has been done to win such accolades.
Covid 19 pandemic
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the region’s economic growth was projected at more than 5 percent. Well above the continent’s average of 3.3 percent.
And the global average of 2.9 percent in 2019. It is expected to return to such high levels going forward.
In March 2020, the pandemic disrupted global supply chains. Following introduction of measures to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Such as closed borders, social distancing, partial and complete lockdowns. Also, a global shipping crisis disrupted and lengthened supply chains.
Precipitated by the increase in eCommerce. And the ability for shipping lines to locate and use shipping containers. The EAC was not spared from these harmful macroeconomic impacts.
Fortunately, the regional industries responded quickly and reinvented. And realigned their supply chains in sourcing raw materials.
The East African Business Council (EABC) applauds the EAC Heads of State. For allowing the movement of cargo during the pandemic’s peak.
Which built resilience of the private sector and contributed immensely. To the growth of intra-EAC trade. Such large scale trade exhibited greater resilience. Than the extra-EAC trade.
Unfortunately, small-scale cross-border trade collapsed. From an average of $44 million in the first quarter of 2020 to $1.15 million by the end of November 2020. Because of the Covid-19 restrictions such as lockdowns and curfews.
This drop exposed the significant differences in policies. Between the different East African countries.
Creating damaging consequences and non-tariff barriers. Such as the infamous truck traffic snarl-ups at border crossings.
Unanticipated taxes and tariffs, random and unpredictable policy changes. Regarding who can drive trucks across borders, and different charges. And testing criteria for acceptable Covid tests.
Let policy makers urgently address these conflicts to simplify and expedite trade. One priority is a common EAC vaccination pass and mutual recognition of Covid-19 test certificates.
To ensure truckers and traders move across borders quickly and efficiently. To enhance resilience and recovery of the EAC bloc.
The pandemic tested the cohesion of our integration. And now must drive us to rethink how we operate within and across our internal regional borders.
Goods and people
Regionally, we have introduced policies and technology. That greatly minimises losses and violations. Meaning goods and people should now be subject to far fewer physical inspections.
We have instituted pre-arrival clearance of cargo, regional Customs bonds, electronic seals, regional electronic cargo and truck driver tracking systems, etc.
There should be no reason truckers take 3-5 hours. At a One-Stop Border Post where officials need to facilitate trade and simply verify documents quickly!
Border agencies verifying cargo slowly increase the cost of doing business. And reduce competitiveness of products made or bought in East Africa.
Nevertheless, we have made progress. Under the leadership of the chairman of the Summit of the EAC Heads of State, President Uhuru Kenyatta.
EAC witnessed better bilateral trade ties, positive prospects of DR Congo joining the EAC. And the region has ratified multiple treaties.
Such as the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, the World Trade Organization Trade Facilitation Agreement.
And the EAC Sanitary and Phytosanitary Protocol by the EAC Partner States. And the EAC Secretariat and Private Sector have vastly improved their levels of engagement.
We applaud Presidents Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni for recently reopening the Gatuna/Katuna border.
As bilateral trade between Uganda and Rwanda trade had slumped by over $200 million due to the closure.
Nevertheless, the EABC is very clear about what further needs to be done. Including implementing open skies.
The EAC Common External Tariff, addressing unfair cheap imports and, finalising and implementing the Standardisation.
The 2017 bill
Accreditation and Conformity Assessment Bill, 2017 in a bid to develop a regional technical regulations framework.
EAC member states equally need to harmonise domestic taxes, sign the EAC multilateral tax agreement, establish the EAC Trade Remedies Committee, and finalise concessions to AfCFTA.
In closing, in line with our EABC objectives of making East Africa a much easier place to do business, East Africans must “come together bring down all trade barriers.” The drive to tear down colonial boundaries to unlock trade and prosperity is long overdue