East African bloc commits to make regional trade cheaper, faster and simpler
Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, the United Republic of Tanzania, and Uganda have agreed to make trade between them and with other countries cheaper, faster and simpler in a significant boost for economic integration in East Africa and continental trade facilitation.
Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, representatives of the nations – who are members of the East African Community customs union and common market (EAC) – said they would implement trade facilitation reforms including reducing “non-tariff barriers” such as burdensome and incompatible product regulations.
“I feel so proud because this is an opportunity for the EAC countries, many of which are landlocked, to sell their products within the region, in Africa and across the whole world,” said Frederick Ngobi Gume, Uganda’s Minister for Cooperatives, whose country is currently chair of the EAC.
“It also gives us an opportunity to simplify the import and export of commodities. Such an approach reduces bureaucracy, with online clearances reducing contacts at the border. This initiative will go a long way to stimulate trade within the EAC and further afield.”
UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi – a Kenyan former trade minister – moderated the Ministerial meeting, which took place in parallel with the first Africa eCommerce Week
“The EAC is a driving force in Africa, displaying good practice in the implementation of trade facilitation reforms,” Dr. Kituyi said. “The EAC Secretariat has shown strong leadership, and I am confident this will continue for smooth implementation at both national, regional and, eventually, continental levels.”
Frank Martsaert, chief executive officer of TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) which provided support to the Ministerial meeting, said that since 2010 “we have had strong partnership with the EAC Secretariat and Partner States to increase trade and deepen the regional integration agenda through investment in hard and soft trade infrastructure. Together with UNCTAD, we look forward to continued partnership and support to the region’s trade facilitation agenda as highlighted in the Ministerial declaration”.
The EAC move comes after most African countries signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement in March 2018. The AfCFTA envisages establishing an Africa free trade area by building on regional blocs such as the EAC where trading nations already work together.
The EAC declaration also aligns with the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement which entered into force in February 2017.
In the declaration, EAC countries commit to supporting National Trade Facilitation Committees (NTFCs) as the main vehicle for coordinating the implementation of the trade facilitation measures at the national level.
Intra-EAC trade, while low compared to regions outside Africa, is the highest among regional economic communities in Africa at 19.35% of exports.
“UNCTAD has supported the institutional architecture of trade facilitation in the East Africa region for many years,” Dr. Kituyi said. “For example, we have helped launch trade portals, which simplify trade procedures and reduce the time and cost of trade transactions in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda – and soon in Tanzania.”
The Nairobi meeting, thought to be the first time a regional bloc in Africa has gathered at this level to pledge trade facilitation reforms in light of the AfCFTA and the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement, was organized by UNCTAD and the EAC Secretariat with the support of TMEA and the International Trade Centre.