The excitement and optimism that ushered in the revival of the East African Community thirteen years ago has been replaced with anxiety and pessimism.
Regional industry captains and the business association leaders say not much has been done to reduce the cost of doing business, eliminate non-tariff barriers (NTBs) and enforce recommendations that will spur regional business.
“We have been speaking about NTBs for years and nothing has changed,” Jennifer Mwijukye, the secretary general, Uganda Freight and Forwarders Association, said recently at the EAC Chief executive CEOs’ meeting in Kampala.
She continued: “We want commitment from member states and not situations where one country just introduces a requirement like a cash bond without a notice.”
Agatha Juma, representing the Federation of Kenya Tourism, said: “EAC lacks seriousness in not just addressing tourism related issues but also commitment to make EAC a regional hub for tourists.”
Betty Maina, representing the Kenya Manufacturers Association, however, said member countries should guard against retaliation because that could worsen the situation.
Reacting to CEOs frustrations, EAC Secretary General Richard Sezibera, said: “There has been an improvement in a number of reforms in the partner states, removal of restriction on the free movement of labour. Besides over 36 non-tariff barriers (NTBs) have been resolved, but a lot needs to be done.”
However, Hussein Kamote, Confederation of Tanzanian Industries’ Policy Director and Research slammed the report, saying member states were not cooperating.
He said: “Each country has its own trade guiding policy which has to be followed, for instance export and import compliance mandates under the Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS). Goods entering from Kenya and Uganda have to be thoroughly tested and inspected physically by TBS and again by Tanzania Food and Drug Authority (TFDA).
He added that Tanzania is the largest market in the East African community given its population hence other member states highly depend on it for exportation.
So it is no wonder that Kenya and Uganda are lamenting the double inspection of goods saying that it slows down trade.
“I understand why other member states are complaining, especially Kenya, although it is the only country that benefits most from this union. Apart from double inspection of foreign merchandise by the agencies, the other challenge faced is presence of many weigh bridges in various parts in the country causing delays in delivery of goods,” he said.
Reports suggest that Kenya’s economy has benefitted enormously from the East African Community ties formed in 2005. Its business has grown by 40 percent compared to other member states.
Nonetheless, a number of industries in Kenya have been affected due to EAC’s failure to eliminate non- tariff-barrier as initially agreed.
“It’s unfortunate that we have not been able to eliminate some of the non-barrier-tariffs in part because our government has lost incredible amounts of revenue,” he explained.
Kamote insisted that the problem is common in the entire community saying that Tanzanian exporters undergo the same form of checks in other member states and so do their counterparts in Tanzania and other member states.
“I acknowledge that this is an obstacle to our business transactions but it should be noted that this is a common problem. All the member states are facing the same tough conditions therefore we should not blame each other,” he concluded.