Four years into the establishment of the East African Common Market Protocol, its implementation is expected to be close to the final stages, according to experts.
However, the process which is in its fourth year of implementation, has suffered a slow pace of the amendment of laws, rules, policies and procedures with just a year left to the intended actualisation of a fully-fledged Common Market.
The Protocol that calls for free movement of goods, labour, capital and services among East African Community (EAC) member states, came into effect on July 1, 2010 and was meant to be implemented over a five-year period.
According to the current status report on the Common Market, partner states have undertaken numerous initiatives through their relevant sectors and National Implementing Committees (NICs) to implement the EAC Common Market Protocol.
One of the EAC principal planning officers, Mr David Sajjabi, notes that there are three major challenges that are slowing down the implementation of the Common Market.
One, member states are taking long to amend national laws, Non-tariff Barriers (NTBs) are still a problem and there are delays to ratify other Protocols that contribute to the implementation of the EAC Common Market Protocol.
Uganda is said to be lagging behind on the implementation of laws that conform to the Common Market Protocol.
In an interview with Prosper magazine, on Uganda’s status of compliance, the director EAC Affairs at Ministry of East African Affairs (MEACA), Mr Lawrence Mujuni Mpitsi, said they are moving fast on amending the laws and hopefully target to be compliant by December this year.
He said MEACA will present the identified laws to other stakeholders in the relevant departments for debate on July 3.
“We have already identified more than 20 laws and are working with the law reform commission. Hopefully, by December this year we shall have amended them to suit the Common Market protocol,” Mr Mpitsi said.
The recurring NTBs make business costly in the region.
“Partner states have maintained and in some cases, introduced new NTBs that hinder the smooth movement of goods and services in the region,” Mr Sajjabi mentioned.
The updated EAC Time Bound Programme shows that 24 NTBs were unresolved; three were reported as new, 61 were resolved and eight new NTBs had been introduced.
The report shows that the five member-states imposed NTBs with Uganda carrying the majority ranked at nine, Kenya and Tanzania both imposed seven NTBs, Burundi imposed five, while Rwanda had the least imposed NTBs ranked at four.
Expounding on the issue of NTBs, Mr Andrew Luzze, the executive director of East African Business Council—a regional private sector umbrella body, says: “Member countries need to establish committees to address these NTBs and explain why they have been introduced.”
Movement of persons/labour
To facilitate trade in the region, free movement of people is a key component of the Common Market Protocol. However, this is still a challenge.
Work permits that should enable people from the member states to work within the region have not been harmonised four years since the Common Market enactment.
“Movement of people is a key component in the production chain and once facilitation is not done, it greatly impacts the growth of the member states. We need to see member countries harmonise work permits,” Mr Luzze said.
According to the status report, only Rwanda allows citizens of partner states to enter their country without restrictions, granting them up to a six-month stay period, which is renewable upon justification.
In Uganda, the Citizenship and Immigration Act is under review. Although the existing law does not guarantee a six-month stay for a visitor, there is an administrative circular that allows visitors from EAC partner states to stay for six months.
Burundi enacted an administrative procedure that guarantees a six-month stay for EAC citizens and also reported that the Immigration Act is currently under review so as to comply with the Common Market Protocol.
Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania have a circular in place directing immigration officials to automatically issue a six-month visitors pass to citizens of EAC partner states.
Experts appreciate that since 2005 when the region entered into the Customs Union— the first stage of the integration—there has been growth in intra-regional trade from Shs4 trillion ($1.6 billion) to Shs8.8 trillion ($3.6 billion) as of 2010.
Also, total intra-EAC trade has grown from 7.5 per cent in 2005 to 11.5 per cent in 2011.
“However, this is far from the true potential of the EAC which boasts of a 140 million people market,” Ms Catherine Masinde, the World Bank’s head of investment climate in East and Southern Africa, notes.
Ms Masinde adds that close to Shs55.7 trillion ($22.7 billion) in inter-regional trade was lost to other regional trading blocs such as Southern African Development Community and Common Market for East and Central Africa between 2005 and 2012.
There has been tremendous cooperation amongst the member states which saw the inaugural Tripartite Summit held in Entebbe in June 2013, leaders of Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda spearhead different components of joint projects.
Uganda committed to lead the railway development and political federation sector; Rwanda on customs, single tourist visa and East African Community e-identity card; and Kenya on the implementation of the oil pipeline and electricity generation.
Because of this, according to Mr Luzze, the number of days spent along the northern corridor to transit goods has reduced to five days from seven.
“We have seen the implementation of the Single Customs Territory, the efficiencies at the Mombasa Port and the One Border Stop Point.
All these measures have reduced the cost of doing business in the region,” Mr Luzze noted.
National Identification Documents
Burundi has initiated a system for issuance of machine readable and electronic national ID cards which was started in September 2013. Kenya has been issuing ID cards to nationals since the colonial period. Rwanda has been issuing machine readable and electronic national ID Cards to her nationals.
While in Tanzania, the process of issuing machine readable national identities by the National Identity Authority started in February, 2013. In Uganda, the process of ID registration kicked off in April this year.
Early this year, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda started using of national ID cards as travel documents among the three countries.