The East African Community is planning a high-level summit to review the performance of its main protocol, the Common Market.
Dr. Peter Mathuki, who has spent a year in office, promises next year to accelerate EAC trade under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), further engage the private sector and to resolve the Congolese 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 hampered by slow and poor implementation of its first pillar, l customs union, while non-tariff barriers stand in the way of the full implementation of the Common Market.
The third and fourth pillars are overdue.
“The East African Community has proposed a high-level summit to provide an opportunity for EAC Heads of State to take stock of progress, challenges and opportunities in the implementation of the East African Community Common Market Protocol and to provide strategic direction and impetus to accelerate implementation,” Dr Mathuki said on Friday during his scorecard presentation in Arusha. .
“The retreat will benefit from a discussion of the practical experience of all beneficiaries and stakeholders engaged in the implementation of the CMP and the experience of other existing common markets around the world”.
The High-Level Retreat is expected to review the status of the implementation of the Common Market Protocol (CMP), highlighting achievements, opportunities, challenges encountered and proposed interventions towards the full realization of the Common Market.
While the CMP calls for the free movement of people and labour, the internal laws of the EAC Partner States continue to prohibit this 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 the Dr Matuki.
A major challenge the EAC faced when it took office in April 2021 was the Covid-19 pandemic which slowed down the movement of goods and people in the region.
The EAC has unveiled a comprehensive regional Covid-19 response plan, to strengthen measures to protect and prevent the spread of the virus.
Some of the key initiatives under this response plan are the development of the EAC Pass, a web-based application, intended to strengthen the verification of test results and digital vaccination certificates, thereby facilitating seamless travel in the region. The pass continues to be adopted by EAC Partner States and adopted at border points.
The EAC is also in the process of identifying the partner state that will host the East African Monetary Institute which would operationalize sections of the Monetary Union.
With regard to the Political Federation, national consultations for the East African Community Political Confederation have so far taken place 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.
Admission to the DRC
One of the highlights of Dr Mathuki’s year in office was the admission of the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the conflict in the east of the country is a blot on that record.
A diplomatic row between Kigali and Kinshasa has escalated in recent days as the two sides trade accusations of aiding armed militias in the volatile eastern DRC region (article on pages 4 and 5).
Rwanda last week accused Congolese armed forces of firing rockets into its territory and said two of its soldiers were abducted while on patrol by the Congolese army.
The Congolese have accused the duo of entering their soil but have pledged to ensure that they are released.
“The EAC is well aware of the conflict in eastern Congo and heads of state have already started to address some of the issues and even held a meeting in Nairobi in April to address the conflict,” Dr Mathuki said. .
He also took office at a time when relations between Kenya and Tanzania were at an all-time low.
But President Uhuru Kenyatta and Samia Suluhu have since engaged in bilateral agreements that have restored trade relations between the two founding partner states of the EAC.
“Bilateral engagements and Regional Monitoring Committees (RMCs) have seen the rapid resolution of non-tariff barriers,” he said.
“We are also keen to ensure better relations between Rwanda and Burundi.”
One of the things Dr Mathuki prioritized when he took office in 2021 was working closely with the private sector.
Indeed, the East African Business Council had expressed concern that trade-related decisions were being made without their input, which made implementation difficult.
The Secretariat has formed the Private Sector Technical Working Group (TWG), mandated to provide a platform to receive and address concerns raised by the regional business community.
“In one year of existence, the GTT has improved and enriched the political discourse on intra-regional trade. It has also kept the private sector updated on the progress of policy reforms,” Dr Mathuki said.
“The Secretariat intends to launch Permanent Secretary and Ministers of EAC-EABC TWG EAC (EACMRT) Roundtables and Private Sector CEO and SG Roundtables at Partner State level to build consensus and a commitment to accelerate implementation, enforcement of reported issues and improved convergence at the EAC level.
Trade facilitation agencies, if necessary, will be included in meetings to address regulatory and operational issues.
So far, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi have ratified the CFTA agreement.
Dr Mathuki calls for the adoption by the EAC ministers in charge of trade and finance of a 4th band of 35% of the EAC common external tariff (CET), which has been pending for six years. The CET is one of the key instruments of the customs union, which justifies regional integration through uniform treatment of goods imported from third parties.
“This implies that imports of goods available locally in the region, such as meat, furniture and textiles, will, from July 1, 2022, be subject to a 35% tariff. This decision aims to promote local production, value addition and industrialization,” he said.
Despite the expansion of the EAC, the bureaucracy that defines its decision-making process and consensus.
The year Mathuki saw the hiring of at least 50 additional staff, the improvement of working relations between the organs of the East African Community and the holding of EAC meetings within the framework of his calendar.
But financing the activities of the East African Community remains its biggest headache.