By LUKE ANAMI
The East African Community plans a high-level summit to review performance of its major protocol, the Common Market.
Dr Peter Mathuki, who has clocked a year in office, is promising in his next year to accelerate EAC trade under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), to involve the private sector more, and resolve the Congo crisis, and other challenges facing the regional bloc.
Re-established 21 years ago under the four pillars of Customs Union, Common Market, Monetary Union, and Political Federation, the EAC has been dogged by slow and poor implementation of its first pillar, the Customs Union, while non-tariff barriers clog the way to the full implementation of the Common Market.
The third and fourth pillars are behind schedule.
Stock taking summit
“The East African Community has proposed a High-Level Summit set to provide an opportunity for the EAC Heads of State to take stock of the progress, challenges and opportunities in the implementation of the East African Community Common Market Protocol and provide strategic direction and impetus to accelerate implementation,” said Dr Mathuki said on Friday while outlining his scorecard in Arusha.
“The retreat will benefit from a discussion of the practical experience from all beneficiaries and stakeholders engaged in the implementation of the CMP and the experience of other existing common markets globally.”
The high level retreat is expected to review the status of Common Market Protocol (CMP) implementation, highlighting the achievements, opportunities, challenges encountered and proposed interventions towards the full attainment of the Common Market.
While the CMP calls for free movement of people and labour, internal EAC partner states’ laws continue to prohibit that movement.
“The focus will be on the implementation of the EAC Customs Union and Common Market Protocols to increase regional trade and enhance freedoms and rights under the Common Market Protocol,” said Dr Mathuki.
A major challenge that faced the EAC when he assumed office in April 2021 was the Covid-19 pandemic that led to slow movement of goods and people within the region.
The EAC unveiled a comprehensive Regional Covid-19 Response Plan, to reinforce measures to protect and prevent further spread of the virus.
Some of the key initiatives under this response plan are the development of the EAC Pass, a web-based application, set to strengthen verification of test results and digital vaccination certificates, thereby facilitating seamless travel across the region. The pass continues to be adopted by EAC Partner States and embraced at border points.
The EAC is also in the process of identifying the partner state that will host the East African Monetary Institute that would operationalise sections of the Monetary Union.
On the political Federation, national consultations for the East African Community Political Confederation have so far been held in Burundi and Uganda.
“Plans are at an advanced stage to hold similar consultations for Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya and South Sudan in the 2022/2023 Financial Year,” the secretary-general said.
One of the highlights of Dr Mathuki’s year in office has been the admission of the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the conflict in the country’s east is a blot on that record.
A diplomatic feud between Kigali and Kinshasa has escalated in recent days as both sides trade accusations about aiding armed militias in the volatile eastern DRC region (story on Pages 4&5).
Rwanda last week accused the Congolese armed forces of firing rockets into its territory, and said two of its soldiers had been kidnapped while on patrol by the Congolese army.
The Congolese accused the duo of having trespassed on its soil but undertook to ensure they would be released.
“The EAC is well aware of the conflict in eastern Congo and the heads of state have already begun resolving some of the issues and even held a meeting in Nairobi in April to address the conflict,” Dr Mathuki said.
He also assumed office at a time when Kenya and Tanzania relations were at an all-time low.
But President’s Uhuru Kenyatta and Samia Suluhu have since engaged in bilateral agreements that have restored trade ties between the two founding EAC partner states.
“Bilateral engagements and Regional Monitoring Committees (RMCs) saw the prompt resolution of Non-Tariff Barriers,” he said.
“We also keen to oversee better relations between Rwanda and Burundi.”
One of the items that Dr Mathuki prioritised when he assumed office in 2021 was to work closely with the private sector.
Indeed, the East African Business Council had raised concerns that trade-related decisions were being made without their input, making it difficult to implement them.
The Secretariat formed the Private Sector Technical Working Group (TWG), mandated to provide a platform for receiving and addressing concerns raised by the regional business community.
“In its one year of existence, the TWG has enhanced and enriched the policy discourse on intra-regional trade. It has also kept the private sector abreast of progress on policy reforms,” said Dr Mathuki.
“The Secretariat intends to launch EAC-EABC TWG EAC Affairs Permanent Secretary and Minister’s Roundtables (EACMRT) and SG’s/Private Sector CEO Roundtables at the Partner States’ level to build consensus and commitment to fast-track implementation, enforcement of issues reported and enhancing convergence at the EAC level.”
Trade facilitation agencies, where necessary, will be incorporated into the meetings to address regulatory and operational issues.
So far Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi have ratified the AfCFTA agreement.
Dr Mathuki claims credit for the adoption by the EAC ministers in charge of Trade and Finance of a 35 percent 4th Band of the EAC Common External Tariff (CET), which had been pending for six years. The CET is one of the key instruments under the Customs Union, which justifies regional integration through uniform treatment of goods imported from third parties.
“This implies that imports of locally available goods into the region such as meat, furniture and textiles, will, from July 1, 2022, attract a tariff of 35 percent. This move aims at promoting local production, value addition and industrialisation,” he said.
Despite the expansion of the EAC, the red tape that defines its decision making process and consensus.
The Mathuki year has seen the hiring of at least 50 more staff, improved working relations among the East African Community organs and ensured EAC meetings are held within its calendar.
But funding of East African Community activities remains his biggest headache.