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Relatedly, the Covid-19 pandemic exposed gaps in EAC’s pandemic response and containment measures
The next East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA), which is also the 5th, will constitute at a most decisive phase of regional integration. Partner States of the East African Community (EAC) are not only emerging into the post-pandemic period with bruised economies, but are doing so on the backdrop of frosty diplomatic relations, trade disputes and border conflicts. Great tasks therefore await representatives to the next EALA on all the four integration pillars, including the customs union, the common market, the monetary union and the political federation.
Previous EALA’s oversaw the abolition of Tariffs on Trade within EAC under the customs union. Nevertheless, non-Tariff barriers, also known as ‘technical barriers to trade’ such as health and safety requirements remain. The imposition of these by partner States due to differing technical regulations as evidenced by Kenya’s recent banning of select food imports from Uganda, continues to hinder trade. These barriers should be abolished as a central tenet of the Single Market. The next EALA should enact policies related to common standards, testing and certification requirements either through a Mutual Recognition Principle (MRP) or by harmonizing technical standards in each partner state.
Relatedly, the Covid-19 pandemic exposed gaps in EAC’s pandemic response and containment measures. Partner states responded individually rather than collectively through uncoordinated measures, including bans and counter bans that needlessly disrupted key areas of social and economic cooperation. The next EALA should accelerate the formation of a framework for joint action by partner states in the prevention and control of pandemics and epidemics, including harmonised policy responses to outbreaks whenever they occur.
Additionally, the bans, including those related to trade and Covid-19 that pitied Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania also revealed an enforcement failure, particularly with the single markets protocol. This problem is likely to worsen with the enlargement of the community after South Sudan and now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) join. Both entrants have less stable political environments for rule application. The next EALA should therefore establish an enforcement authority to track compliance and address infringements on agreed protocols by partner states.
The enlargement of the community also increases the number of EAC currencies, subsequently aggravating the exchange rate risk and increasing transaction costs, etc. The next EALA should fast track the envisioned convergence of currencies into a single currency for EAC by strengthening cooperation between central banks. It should consider instituting a committee to consult and promote the coordination of monetary policies of partner States.
As the community embraces technology, the next EALA should also push for a digital single market to digitalise EAC’s common market freedoms, with common EAC-wide regulations and rules for digital telecommunications services, copyright and data protection. These are vital for protecting individuals’ fundamental rights in the digital age and facilitating online business by clarifying rules for stakeholders in the digital single market.
Also, as partner states increasingly enter bilateral trade agreements with international partners in the post pandemic period, the next EALA should consider introducing regulation for partner states to create a system for cooperating and exchanging information on investments from non-EAC countries. This will ensure that EAC is better equipped to protect its interests, while remaining among the world’s most open investment areas.
Meanwhile, constitutions of EAC partner states still do not make committal reference to integration. Representatives to the next EALA should liaise with their country parliaments to push for constitutional reforms addressing this gap. This is because the extent to which partner states promote integration through their constitutions will not only help EAC organs function effectively but also fast-track progression towards the envisioned political federation.
Generally, representatives to the next EALA must enhance the progress their predecessors made under the customs union and common market. They should further solidify the foundation for the Monetary Union and fast track the progression towards a Political Federation, which is the ultimate goal of the EAC integration.
Silver Oluka, Candidate for EALA 2022 Uganda People’s Congress