A six-day forum on Regional Integration: harmonization of laws, rules and regulations on Cross Border trade amongst the seven Border counties came up with seven-point recommendations on how to address challenges that have hindered the East African Community Integration process.

Border Counties of Narok, Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu, Bungoma, Busia, and Trans Nzoia jointly expressed the need to harmonize and align their laws, rules and regulations to EAC Treaty, Protocols and Agreements; Review charges levied on transit trucks in line with Kenya’s commitment to EAC; and each County to appoint a focal point to coordinate and work with the State Department of East African Affairs (SDEAA).

State Department of East African Affairs, in collaboration with Border Counties to scale up awareness creation and sensitization programmes on EAC Integration Process, commitments and obligations. It was further resolved that Border agencies to step up surveillance to stamp out entry of poisonous and hazardous substances.

The National government of Kenya to engage the United Republic of Tanzania to consider opening a border entry point at Olpusimoru to facilitate cross border movement of goods and persons. Further, the State Department of East Africa was asked to initiate a survey on EAC Integration process to determine the impact of Kenya’s agenda on border counties.

The National government was further tasked to consider up-grading Lwakhakha and Suam entry points to decongest the Malaba and Busia entry points. TradeMark East Africa, the sponsor of the forum, accepted to fund bridges identified by each county of utmost importance.

State Department of East African Affairs Principal Secretary Mr. John O. Konchellah opened the forum with a call on border counties to take the lead in mobilizing resources to improve border markets among other infrastructure initiatives to enable communities that boarder Kenya’s neighbours benefit from the liberalized Intra-trade regime.

In a speech read on his behalf by the Integration Secretary Mr. Barrack Ndegwa, Mr. Konchellah said the National government had already taken the first initiative by modernizing the country’s borders through the construction of One Stop Border Posts(OSBPs) facilities at all major border points in liaison with the EAC Partner States in order to improve movement of goods and persons. “Once OSBPs are launched, they will reduce the time taken to clear cargo and persons’’, remarked the Principal Secretary.

He said the forum was coming at a time that the country was focusing on developing institutions that support devolution. Devolution, he added, was the centerpiece of decentralization of power and resources from the centre to the periphery with the ultimate objective of empowering at the grass root to determine their own course of development.

Mr. Konchellah assured that the Integration journey was on course, and EAC had achieved milestones in the short period that the organization existed. “We established the Customs Union in 2005 and progressively implemented its provisions that were completed in 2010’’, he said. Key components of Customs Union are free movement of goods manufactured in the region and establishment of the Single Customs Union.

The objective of the Single Customs Territory is to speed up circulation of goods within the Community by collapsing national borders. This means that Goods entering the region will pay duty at the first port of entry and thereafter circulate freely within the region. Mr. Konchellah pointed out that Single Customs territory leads to increased Intra-regional trade and would help .EA gain more from its resources.

Commenting on the challenges posed by the Non-Tariff Barriers(NTBs) in the Integration process, Mr. Konchellah said they constituted prolonged formalities, multiplicity of institutions, duplication of clearance processes, limited capacity at the border posts, technical requirements and travel restrictions and local charges imposed on transit trucks and cross boarder traders among others.

The Counties were responding on Mr. Konchellah’s earlier appeal on those bordering Kenya’s EAC partner states of Uganda and Tanzania to formulate a joint approach in harmonizing laws, rules and regulations on cross-border trade.

He said the National Government is determined to build, nurture and enhance cooperative linkages and to seek synergy with counties. Mr Konchellah was speaking during a three-day forum for Border Inter-Counties forum on regional integration of laws, rules and regulations on cross-border trade in Bungoma. The forum was opened by the Integration Secretary for East African Affairs, Mr Barrack Ndegwa on behalf of Mr Konchellah.

Mr Konchellah stated that border counties served as gateways to the country. “It therefore follows that cross border trade and other lawful transactions taking place at our borders should benefit our counties. However this can only happen if necessary infrastructures are developed and available opportunities explored,” he said. “In this regard, it is imperative that border counties take a lead in mobilising resources to improve border markets among other infrastructure initiatives to enable border communities take advantage of the liberalized Intra-EAC trade regime.’’

Mr. Konchellah said the National Government has already taken the first initiative by modernising its borders by constructing One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs) facilities at all major border points in liaison with the EAC partner states to improve movement of goods and persons. Once OSBPs are launched, they will reduce the time taken to clear cargo and persons. The concept of OSBP envisages a scenario where all exit and entry formalities are combined and handled at one location- in the country of destination.

Bungoma County Commissioner Maalim Mohammed said there was serious need to harmonize rules on brewing of traditional beer, since its use was not prohibited in Uganda, yet in Kenya it is illegal.

Mr. Ndegwa said border counties will be empowered withinformation to enable them seize opportunities due to them for the benefit of their communities.

According to Integration officer Mr. Juma Wakhungu, the objective of the forum is to build consensus on harmonization of Border Counties on rules, laws on cross border and regional trade. Participants will also develop shared vision on how counties and regional governments can work towards promoting national interests in the region.

Mr. Alfred Kitolo of the State Department of East African warned counties not to impose any tax on goods passing through the country destined within the EAC region, so that it does not attract hue and cry from Kenya’s neighbors. Fourth schedule of our constitution empowers counties to initiate trade development and regulation, including markets, trade licenses for trading practices, local tourism, but do not allow regulations that will stifle EAC Integration.

Mr. Ndegwa and Mr. Alfred Kitolo presented an overview of the EAC Integration journey, legal framework, and East African Community Integration; implications to Devolution.

Other presentations came from Mr. Julius Mwabu Mrs. Grace Wasike on; “EAC Regional Infrastructures projects, and their impact on counties;   Mombasa Port Mordernization programme and its impact on Intra-EAC trade, and East African Monetary Union.