East Africa: EAC Heads Urged to Focus Energies On Trade Barriers

Arusha — The East African Business Council (EABC) wants regional leaders to seriously focus their energies on the obstacles affecting the flow of trade and ease on doing business.

Notable among them are long outstanding non-tariff barriers (NTBs) which, it says, continue to hinder free movement of goods and services across the region.

Others include double taxation due to failure by the member states to harmonise their tax regimes and high travel and telecommunication costs.

"The coming summit should address some of these obstacles faced by the business community," said Peter Mathuki, the recently appointed EABC executive director.

According to the EAC secretariat, six of the customs-related NTBs had been eliminated by October last year, two partially resolved while eleven remain outstanding.

However, the number of NTBs remain high because some are outside the customs docket.

A meeting of the Sectoral Council on Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment held last October was told seven new NTBs have been reported, one re-occurring and 20 unresolved.

It emerged that the partner states -- Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan -- had been slow on the implementation of the EAC Elimination of NTBs Act, 2017.

The 20th EAC Summit is tentatively planned to take place in Arusha on February 1st after it was twice postponed, a sign of widening crack in the six nation bloc.

Burundi, which was behind the cancellation of the summit on November 30th, over the weekend confirmed it would participate on the coming leaders' meeting.

Mr Mathuki, a former Kenyan member of the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala), said it was high time for the EAC member states buried their differences.

"In 2019, it is our humble expectation that continous engagement at the summit level will address the hiccups faced by cross border movement of capital, goods, services and labour," he said.

Key on agenda of the two aborted summits -- November 30 and December 27 -- was status of resolution of long outstanding NTBs and strategies to reduce used motor vehicles and textile imports.

He said the private sector will be key in ensuring sustainable regional integration. EABC is an apex body of private sector organisations in the region.

"We will strongly engage all governments of the EAC to partner in promoting ease of doing business in the region", he told The Citizen in an interview.

The business body would also steer the bloc in the actualization of the envisaged African Continental Free Trade Area for which only Rwanda and Kenya have so far ratified.

"EAC being the fastest growing regional economic bloc will drive the region into actualizing the Treaty because we are yearning for a larger market," he said.

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