19 May 2011

Kenya: Traders Say Common Market Yet to Benefit Them

Kenyan traders are frustrated with the East Africa Community Common Market protocol for failure to eliminate trading obstacles in the region. At the Namanga border point with Tanzania there was high expectations earlier, but now the merchants say free trade is just on paper.

Nearly a year after the takeoff of the Common Market protocol, Elizabeth Woki, who is transportation business, says there are no signs of coordination of activities among the two countries.

For instance, the two countries are at very different levels of making cargo clearance faster which frustrates the transport companies. "In Kenya, you can now get clearance in less than six hours while in Tanzania it may take up to 14 days unless you make prior arrangements, "says Woki.

The agencies involved in quality assurance and certification such as bureaus of standards are also very detached, causing losses for manufacturers and transporters. "Coming from Tanzanian, transporters are allowed to enter Kenya with their first consignment while it is being tested, but if it's to Tanzania, the cargo stays at the border while the samples are tested, which can take even 6 months," she adds. There is also inconsistency in the maximum weight allowed for trucks.

In Kenya, the maximum truck weight is 47 tonnes while in Tanzania it is 50 tonnes. "The three tonnes difference is unused capacity while exporting to Tanzania, but while importing, you pay heavy fine in Kenya if it exceeds," she says.

Hajj Noor Barrow, an exporter, says there are continuous efforts by the Tanzania authorities to frustrate Kenyan businesspeople. He says, sometimes Kenyans are being denied entry to Tanzania on grounds that their travel documents are invalid, despite being accepted by Kenyan immigration offices.

Barrow says it is not only in the public authorities' offices but also private companies. "Banks in Tanzania are refusing Kenyans to open transaction accounts restraints us from doing business there, yet their citizens can easily open accounts in Kenya banks," he says.

Barrow says, "In some instances, we have to use Tanzanian citizens to open accounts for transactions which is risky as some have ran away with our money". Currently Kenya exports to Tanzania are around Sh30 billion a year and imports around Sh8 billion.

The traders now wonder where the free movement offered by the regional integration was just a sham. The Ministry of EAC says there are some practical procedures the traders are not aware of that is leading to frustrations.

Hellen Sambili, the Minister for EAC says implementation is a gradual process, even though traders may expect some issues to be resolved over night.

While opening the regional integration centres, the minister said, "One of the tasks of RICs is to facilitate cross border trade and open an automated system for handling customs data and declarations which will shorten clearance times". All the EAC states have agreed to open such centers on their border points.

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