East Africa's intra-regional trade has fallen to 0.2 per cent of global trade due to persistent trade disputes and barriers.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) has now launched a study on the impact of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) on trade.
The study was announced after a meeting between Kenya and Tanzania called to resolve outstanding NTBs in July failed to take off.
The EastAfrican has learnt that Unctad is looking for national consultancies from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi to come up with a report on NTBs for each country. The national reports will then be compiled into a regional document.
Unctad Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi confirmed that the study is underway, but it was too early to discuss it.
"I will comment when we have the results of the survey," he said.
Despite EAC partner states committing themselves to remove NTBs, they remain prevalent.
Attempts by regional states to deal with NTBs through various initiatives like the EAC Time-Bound Programme for Elimination of Identified NTBs (EACS, 2009) seem to have achieved little.
Under the EACS, member states were supposed to come up with a list of NTBs reported by partner states, and update them during quarterly review meetings.
During the meetings, new NTBs would be reported and those that had been resolved would be moved to the end of the list.
Intra-EAC trade is just 20 per cent compared with other regional economic blocs like the South African Development Community (SADC) which stands at 58 per cent and the European Union (EU) at 68 per cent.
Total EAC trade accounted for only 0.2 per cent of global trade in 2017 and 0.3 per cent in 2016, according to the EAC Trade and Investment Report 2017.
In 2017, intra-EAC imports and exports accounted for only 7.7 per cent and 18.7 per cent of total imports and exports respectively.
According to Uganda's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, NTBs are against the spirit of integration and the legal obligations enshrined in the legal instruments of the bloc.
In April, trade officials from Tanzania and Kenya met in Arusha following a directive by the 20th EAC Heads of State Summit to resolve the existing NTBs.
A report from the meeting showed that the two countries managed to resolve 19 out of 37 reported NTBs, and agreed to deal with the remaining 18 NTBs during the bilateral meeting in July, which didn't happen.
Chris Kiptoo, Principal Secretary in Kenya's Department of Trade at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Co-operatives, who was the organiser of the bilateral meeting to be held in Mombasa, did not respond to our enquiries.
In February, Tanzania started subjecting Kenyan products to quality verification, after Kenya did the same for three consecutive months, going against a mutual agreement on the standards of goods traded within the region.
Spirits and tiles are among products from Tanzania that are subjected to quality verification before entering Kenya, despite having a Tanzania Bureau of Standards quality mark.
Tanzania claimed that the Kenya Bureau of Standards had been taking samples of their products for verification in Nairobi; the process takes as long as 30 days.
As a result, Tanzania detained Kenyan products at its borders for more than seven days pending quality verification. Tanzania is also reluctant to issue work permits to Kenyan nationals to work in the country.