E.A.C Development: Prioritising the Common Market Protocol

Published on 1st October 2013

Prior to his visit to Tanzania this past July, US President Barack Obama visited South Africa where he spoke at a young African leaders initiative at the  University of Johannesburg, attended by individuals from across Africa including Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. During an interview on trade and taking advantage of development opportunities within the east African region, he said something that is the basis for this article: “It is easier to send flowers or coffee to Europe than it is to send to neighboring countries.” Why is this so?

We cannot ignore the need for export reform within our region especially at the expense of faster economic growth. We need to diversify our export markets outward and most importantly, within our member states of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

This past week, Treasury Economic Affairs Department Director for Kenya, Mr. Justus Nyamunga told journalists that Kenya will implement a comprehensive strategy in order to diversify its export markets which had been slowed down by high global oil prices, inflation and high interest rates. Kenya’s steady export growth these past few years is being eroded by an upsurge in imports.

A major reason for the poor diversity in our regional export market is indifference. Experts have identified that apart from Rwanda, other East African Community (E.A.C) member states have been slow to implement the Common Market Protocol (C.M.P) and its key agreements, which affects the pace of free movement of goods and capital. To bring up to speed those unfamiliar with this protocol, it was basically an agreement following ratification by all the five partner states; Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, that provides for the free movement of goods, labor, services and capital, aiming at significantly boosting trade and investments that will make the region more productive and prosperous. Experts further argue that the partner states’ failure to honor their obligation to review their domestic legislation and ensure compliance with the protocol has been largely due to fears of job losses and undermining local economic competitiveness. World Bank’s trade specialist Mr. Paul Brenton, cautioned that the mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the common market protocol were weak or absent in the region.

According to Mr. Husein Kamote of the Confederation of Tanzania Industries (C.T.I), the time for making endless excuses among partner states in the implementation of the protocol’s key issues has elapsed. He indicates that Tanzania’s exports to other E.A.C partner states increased from $96.4 million in 2005 to $450 million in 2010, and that intra-regional trade grew from $2.2 billion in 2005 to $3.6 billion in 2009. These figures however accounted for only 9.5 percent of the total E.A.C trade. An Arusha-based business analyst, Patrick Mafunu, observes that the  differences in common currencies mean the common market’s objectives will take time to be realized as anticipated.

In December 2012, while addressing partner states’ experts in Kampala, Uganda’s Permanent secretary in the ministry of East African Community affairs, Mrs. Edith Mwanje, recalled the concerns expressed by both the summit of the E.A.C Heads of State and the Council of Ministers on the slow pace of implementation of the protocol. She  emphasized the need to reflect on “where we are, where we ought to be and what needs to be done to put implementation back on track.” She further underscored the importance of the common market to ordinary citizens who want to move, study, work, reside and generally do business within the true spirit of East African integration and its centrality in trade facilitation.

Furthermore, the Council of ministers responsible for E.A.C affairs and planning directed the establishment of National Implementation Committees (NICs) by 29th February 2012, comprised of high level officials under the chairmanship of the ministries responsible for E.A.C affairs and directed the Secretariat to convene bi-annual meetings of partner states’ experts to review the status of implementation of the common market protocol, share best practices at the regional level and review the framework and propose policy interventions if necessary for its considerations.

Clearly, from the above, the structures are in place for us to thrive economically as a region under the C.M.P and that we are on the right path. What is important however is that all members stay on that path together.

By Emmanuel Kirenzi.

The author mkirenzi@yahoo.com is a student of Marketing at the Kampala International University in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

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