By Michael Okidi
Stakeholders and policy makers in the East African Community (EAC) integration process are concerned about the slow pace of implementation of the various agreements geared towards fast tracking the integration agenda.
Ugandan Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda and Kenya’s EAC and Northern Corridor Development Cabinet Secretary, Mr Peter Munya, led other leaders in calling for speedy implementation of the various multi-sectoral protocols and agreements if the EAC integration was to achieve its objective of an economically prosperous, socially integrated and politically united East Africa.
They spoke at the Kenyatta International Conventions Center (KICC) during celebrations to mark 20 years since the establishment of the East African Business Council (EABC), the apex body of business associations of the Private Sector and Corporates from the six EAC Partner States.
It was Mr Munya who first raised concern about occasional failure by regional implementing agencies to adhere to the wordings of EAC Council and other decisions, noting that conflict between certain national rules and regulations was largely responsible for failure to put into practice some of the key resolutions.
Mr Munya called for harmonization of key national laws and regulations whose variance per Partner State were prohibiting smooth regional trade, to allow for free flow of goods and services within the region.
“National laws need to be aligned to regional protocols. Partner States also need to push for law reforms back home. The other alternative is to pass overarching laws at the regional level to replace existing legislations. This has been done with success in the European Union,” said Mr. Munya.
He called for a review of the Common External Tariff and efforts to make the EAC Single Customs Territory work better, adding that the Community may need to establish a regional institution to make this possible.
Mr Munya said that the region was currently a net importer of various commodities and advised that governments should now seriously start embarking on prioritization of industrialization.
He said that Kenya had prioritized industrialization under its Big Four Agenda and particularly singled out the manufacture of apparels and local motor vehicle assembly plants that were now coming up.
In his speech, Dr Rugunda, who represented President Yoweri Museveni as chief guest during the celebrations, noted with concern that intra-African trade was still extremely low, currently accounting for only 10% of all commerce on the continent.
He called for concerted efforts between African governments and the private sector players to facilitate trade and enable the continent attain its development objectives.
Dr. Rugunda said that doing business as blocs was increasingly becoming the norm as evidenced by the signing last week in Kigali, Rwanda of the Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) by the leaders of 44 African countries.
The Prime Minister said that the CFTA, which will come into force within six months, would increase prosperity for 1.2 billion Africans, adding that the move would provide a true learning experience for businesses across the globe.
Dr. Rugunda hailed EABC for striving to see to it that regional integration process is achieved with meaningful and tangible results for the citizens of the East African Community (EAC).
He noted with satisfaction that since the inception of the EABC, there had been progress towards achieving the integration process through trade and policy reviews, tax harmonization, discussions on the Northern Corridor, stakeholder engagements to improve the free movement of goods and services within the region.
In his remarks, Kenya’s Minister for Cooperatives, Trade and Industry, Mr. Adan Mohammed, who represented President Uhuru Kenyatta, said that the private sector in East Africa had also contributed to the challenges to intra-regional trade including non-tariff barriers to trade.
Mr. Mohammed said that the private sector had brought about NTBs by pushing their respective home governments to push for national interests as opposed to the regional integration agenda for the sake of preserving their markets.
He described the EAC as the most integrated in terms of trade and infrastructure development, adding that the Community needs to stick together when negotiating trade agreements with other regional economic communities because there is strength in numbers.
The EABC Chairman Jim Kabeho, in his speech, emphasized the importance of giving preference to locally sourced materials, especially in huge infrastructure projects being undertaken by governments in the region.
“The local business sector should be allowed to participate in major projects including at the inception. All materials for these projects like cement and steel should be sourced locally rather than abroad. China currently dominates the supply of construction materials. Sourcing materials locally will lead to expanded sales as well as capacity building for local businesses,” said Kabeho.
Mr Kabeho also noted with concern that though EAC Partner States’ economies were agriculture-based this was not reflected in their budgets with minimal allocations going to the sector.
EAC Secretary General Amb. Liberat Mfumukeko said that EAC and EABC had worked closely over the years with both institutions benefitting from the synergies of working together.
The Secretary General said that through this partnership, EAC and EABC had contributed towards the conclusion of several regional legal instruments such as the Customs Union, Common Market and Monetary Union Protocols, One Stop Border Posts Act, the Framework on the elimination of non-tariff barriers to trade, and development of trade standards.
Among the dignitaries at the event were the Chairperson of the EAC Council of Ministers, Hon. Kirunda Kivejinja, who is also Uganda’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for EAC Affairs and Kenya’s EAC and Northern Corridor Development Ministry’s Chief Administrative Secretary, Mr Ken Obura.