Kampala — A Ugandan official has said the World Trade Organisation (WTO) wants the East African Community member states to commit themselves to only one trading Customs Union by 2008.The official in Uganda's Ministry of East African Affairs who preferred anonymity told The New Times on Monday 18 that Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi will have to pullout of COMESA and Tanzania from SADC within two years from today to concentrate on the East African Community.
In a similar way, the official also added, the EAC members would have to abide by the Customs Management Act that requires them to abandon the other Customs Unions by December 31 this year.
The WTO rules like the East African Customs Management Act demand that members of a trading bloc belong to not more than one Customs Union.
The Customs Management Act enacted by the Assembly in 2004, which governs the administration of the Customs Union, including legal, administrative and operational matters, was supposed to be amended after the swearing-in ceremony of the recently elected EA Legislators.
However, the inauguration of the Assembly was suspended after the East African Court of Justice barred the Kenyan nominees from being sworn-in, and therefore the amendment of the Act, which was slated to be effected on December 4, according to the agenda, could not be enforced.
"The World Trade Organisation wants all the EAC member states to pull out from the other Customs Unions by 2008. We only have two years to do that.
And for the case of the Customs Management Act the Summit (Heads of State) that sat at the end of November this year agreed that the period of amendment be extended until when all the members have sorted their membership with the other trading blocs.
The summit has superior powers over the Legislative Assembly," the technical official, who also sits at secretariat of the Community, said.
The Act provides for a transitional decentralized administrative structure for the EAC Customs Union. Within this decentralized set up, the day-to-day operations of customs including collection of revenue will continue to be managed and administered by the respective National Revenue Authorities.
But, Lydia Wanyoto, a Ugandan senior member of the EA Legislative Assembly told
The New Times on Monday at parliament in Kampala that "eventually it would be the Assembly" to decide the fate of the Community since failure to amend the Customs Management Act "would have legal implications."
"When I was in Arusha (EAC headquarters) during the inauguration, we (legislators) informally thought of smuggling in the amendment of the Customs Management Act in one of the schedules after the assembly reconvenes-after the court case. However, our efforts are that we try to secure a loophole. Otherwise, we shall have problems with the law," Wanyoto said.
Meanwhile, the Ugandan official in the Ministry of the East African Affairs further revealed that despite Rwanda and Burundi being admitted into the Community at the end of November this year, the two central African states will "go through a rigorous process" of harmonising their legislation with the laws of the other EAC members in the next one year to be fully accepted.
Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania agreed that a three-band Common External Tariff structure of 0%, 10%, and 25% applies to goods imported into East Africa.
Selected lists of sensitive items are also supposed to attract rates above 25% as an additional protection measure for similar locally produced products.