Arusha — Intra-regional trade within the East African Community (EAC) bloc rose by 10.3 per cent last year, courtesy of harmonisation of cross-border rules and procedures.
"Reforms taken under the Customs Union has also boosted intra-regional trade," Mr Christophe Bazivamo, EAC deputy secretary general responsible for productive and social sectors, said in Arusha yesterday.
He said intra-EAC trade catapulted to $3.2 billion last year from $2.7 billion in 2016 and $2.9 billion in 2017. Mr Bazivamo disclosed this here at the just concluded second meeting of the EAC Development Partners' Group (DPG).
The meeting held at the EAC headquarters deliberated on key aspects of the economic integration and infrastructure development.
Officials at the EAC secretariat officials say there was "no one rule or procedure" introduced but insisted generally most of the trade procedures within the region have been simplified.
They cite the operationalisation of the EAC Single Customs Territory (SCT), the Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) and One Stop Border Post (OSBP) and their respective rules and regulations as having a multiplier effect on the ease of doing business in the region.
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Alongside with these is enhanced customs operations inter-connectivity in the region which has seen the introduction of Electronic Cargo Tracking System to monitor the movement of traded goods across the region.
Mr Bazivamo told representatives of development partners that despite a host of challenges like scarcity of resources, the EAC integration process was on course.
"A number of achievements have been made in the four pillars of integration which include the Customs Union and the Common Market," he said.
He stated harmonised rules and procedures under the Customs Union has seen trade statistics within the six nation bloc nearly doubling in two years.
He said the free movement of people within the region has been simplified because there was no requirement of entry visa from one country to another.
"Some partner sates allow use of national IDs as traveling documents," he added, noting that the international EAC e-passports enables one to travel within the region and beyond.
Mr Patrick Nyimbo, the regional integration coordinator of the African Development Bank (AfDB), pledged continued support of the EAC infrastructure projects.
He said establishment of thematic groups among consortium of development partners working collaboratively with the EAC enabled better coordination of development assistance.
Ms Stine Hyldekjaer, a team leader from the European Union (EU), emphasized the need to involve all EAC institutions in dialogue with the development partners.
Key non-state actors such as the private sector and civil society should also be roped in the negotiations "given their valuable experience".
The meeting discussed the current and on-going support to the EAC by the development partners and the Community's likely priorities in the 2020/2021 fiscal year budget.
Although the statistics indicate the rising intra-regional trade within the EAC, business leaders and policy makers alike believe it has not been successful in opening a free trade zone.
East African Business Council (EABC) executive director Peter Mathuki said implementation of the EAC Customs Union has not yielded the desired outcomes.
"We need a policy and strategic direction on this. All stakeholders should be involved, not leaving out the private sector," he told the three-day conference at a Nairobi hotel.
He noted that after 20 years of integration process, the intra-EAC trade was as low as 12 per cent "whereas trade with other nations is 90 per cent".