East African Community Members Want To Remove All Non-Tariff Barriers To Trade

Written by Godfrey Olukya

The East African Community wants to remove all non-tariff trade barriers in an effort to cut down on transportation time and reduce the cost of moving products and services between the six member countries — Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

Non-tariff barriers include road blocks along highways meant to check issues unrelated to paying taxes or custom duties. These include checking the weight of goods on trucks and trailers, identifying the type of goods being transported, and checking for identification of traders. They also include traffic police checking the condition of vehicles.

On Jan. 14, 2016, the East African Community members agreed to refrain from introducing new non-tariff barriers, and also on start reducing existing road blocks and weighbridges, among others. All the countries have so far co-operated, but now they want all barriers removed.

The 20 barriers between Mombasa and Kampala have been reduced to about nine. There are 14 barriers remaining between Mombasa and Kigali, Rwanda. From Dar-es-Salaam to Burundi there are more than 10 barriers.

A process meant to eliminate all non-tariff barriers has kicked off with blessings from all member countries, said Silver Ojakol, Uganda’s Commissioner for External Trade, at a Sept. 2 press conference following the East Africa Business Council meeting in Kampala. A joint technical committee has been set up to help identify and eliminate non-tariff barriers. Ojakol did not provide a deadline.

Removing non-tariff barriers is meant to reduce the time taken to transport goods from coastal ports to members states, according to trade ministry officials from the member countries.

Apart from Kenya and Tanzania, the rest of the East African member countries are landlocked and they depend on the ports of Mombasa in Kenya and Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania for delivery of their goods from overseas. Goods are transported along highways for long distances from the ports to their destinations.

Eliminating non-tariff barriers will go a long way in promoting trade in the region because it will greatly reduce transport costs, Ojakol said.

It will reduce transport costs will by 21 percent. The time taken to import goods from each East African country will reduce by 14 percent and time taken to export goods from within the region will reduce by 20 percent, Ojakol said.

Kenyan cross-border businessman Jackson Ogalo deals in textile products. Non-tariff barriers have long hampered business development in the region, he said. ”I do take goods from Nairobi to Kampala, Kigali and Dar-es-Salaam but the many roadblocks and weighing bridges and road toll payment points have been making my work difficult. I am grateful to those who have come up with the idea of eliminating non-tariff barriers.”

Ugandan businessman Mubarak Mugasa imports shoes and clothes from China. Traders are very happy about the development, he said. ”Definitely I support the elimination of non-tariff barriers because it will make my work better. I export goods from China to Uganda but the tariff barriers have been making me take long to get my goods from Mombasa to Kampala.”

A Rwandan trader, Pierre Ndimwibo exports raw materials and imports electronic devices. Elimination of non-tariff barriers will make him make more profits and his business will grow bigger, he said.

”If the goods I import can easily be transported to Kigali and those I export can easily reach the port of Mombasa to be taken overseas, then I should be happy about the development.”

Kenyan trade ministry official Barnabas Baraza said that since the East African member countries agreed on eliminating non tariff barriers, weighbridges in Kenya have been reduced from six to four.

”In Tanzania weighbridges have been reduced from eight to seven in number as one of the efforts towards eliminating non-tariff barriers,” said Tanzania trade board official Martin Kirenga. He added that they still have some roadblocks but over time they will be removed. Roadblocks still being maintained are meant for security reasons — especially stopping highway robbery, he said.

Likewise police roadblocks are being removed from highways in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.

Because of insecurity in South Sudan, there are still numerous roadblocks — some mounted by the armed services and others by rebel groups, which has made life unbearable for traders working in that country.

The decision to eliminate non-tariff barriers was based on article 13 of the protocol on establishment of an East African community Customs Union, said Vincent Safari, chairman of Rwanda’s National Non-Tariff Barriers monitoring committee.

He said that now trans-border traders in Rwanda are appreciating the move because it has eased their work.

”It now takes a shorter time to transport goods from Mombasa port in Kenya to Kigali unlike before. It takes two days to move goods from Mombasa to Kampala and four days from Mombasa to Kigali, which is fair,” Safari said.

East African countries can develop if they remove all barriers that hinder free movement of people, according to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.