What you need to know:
The issue: Trade
Our view: Partner states cannot convincingly speak of furthering the liberalisation of intra-regional trade, as enunciated in the Protocol, if constraints to free movement of goods remain in situ.
Images of interminably long lines of trucks queuing up to cross the border into Kenya do not reflect very well on the East African Community’s aspirations to become a proper regional free trade area.
This time, Kenyan customs are blaming yet another break-down of the security scanner on their side of the border. If true, that would be intolerable. There should always be a back-up system.
In the best of circumstances, free trade should conjure up businesslike images of unfettered and efficient movement of goods and services. But with trucks stuck at Malaba for days that implied freedom of movement is getting fuzzy. This undesirable state of affairs has been developing for weeks and may now require more than inter-ministerial meetings to resolve.
The EAC can ill afford the luxury of another cross-border port again becoming a lingering problem between partner states. We all remember how costly that became after Rwanda closed the Gatuna border with Uganda between March 2019 and January 2022.
Unnecessarily delaying goods in transit imposes unplanned costs on traders and negatively impacts the final consumer -- who ultimately absorbs that cost by paying a higher price for the affected goods. It is bad for business.
What we have here is a very loud slap in the face of the Protocol for the Establishment of the East African Community Customs Union. That document was signed by the EAC’s founding partner states of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya in Arusha on March 2, 2004. It was a landmark step forward in the march towards regional integration.
Inside this protocol are embedded country obligations to assure the eventual elimination of all tariff and non-tariff barriers which could otherwise hinder intra-regional trade. Its main objective being the formation of a single customs territory with preferential trading between partner states at its core. Unfortunately, the patience-trying events at Malaba instead speak to suspected subtle schemes, quietly fomented, to frustrate that objective.
Partner states cannot convincingly speak of furthering the liberalisation of intra-regional trade, as enunciated in the Protocol, if constraints to free movement of goods remain in situ.
In the last three years alone, Ugandan exporters of milk and milk products, grain (maize), sugar and eggs have faced outright resistance to their exports to Kenya. If there are no objections as to their suitability for human consumption being raised, there has been an unexplained delay in the issuing of export licences. Where will it all end given that the very border itself is now a subject of contention?
One unhappy conclusion would be that Uganda is faced with an undeclared obstructionist trade policy to the east. This does not bode well for regional integration.
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