Traders, especially women, are experiencing Customs delays and roadblocks that hinder export of goods across regional borders.
This is despite it being almost seven years after the East African Community started implementing the Common Market Protocol.
A new study on non-tariff barriers facing Ugandan women trading in East Africa found that open borders as proposed in the Customs Union and Common Market protocols have not been realised.
Some of the challenges the traders face include problems with the Asycuda system, which rarely functions leading to wasted time. Asycuda is a computerised Customs management system that handles manifests and Customs declarations, accounting procedures, transit and suspense procedures.
According to the study by Uganda Women Entrepreneurs, the Asycuda system is usually off an average three days a week, despite its being designed to reduce the time spent clearing goods.
However, Alex Rubanga who is in charge of international trade at the Uganda Revenue Authority, said it is highly unlikely for the system to be off that often.
But according to Uganda’s Minister of Trade Amelia Kyambadde, she has received similar complaints from several business players.
“Asycuda has a problem. The other day I was meeting the Netherlands business community and they reported experiencing the same problem with it,” she said.
The women traders also reported being blocked from crossing with their goods, unless they pay clearing agents, even when the cargo doesn’t warrant this kind of charge.
The study found that these women experience a lot of challenges including sexual harassment and cargo retention.
According to the study, 11 per cent of the respondents experience cargo retention every time they cross the border, 38 per cent don’t remember how often and 34 per cent experience this problem twice a month.
Projections from the study show that women traders lose about Ush900 million ($246,325) annually to cargo retention.
“Why should women exporting goods worth less than $2,000 experience such high levels of cargo retention?” asked Amos Tindyebwa, the consultant who conducted the study on behalf of Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Ltd.
The retention of cargo sees them resort to bribing the police and Customs officials, while others give up on selling their goods across borders.
These challenges result in countries missing out on foreign exchange, when these traders give up on trading across borders, while some of the region’s intra-EAC trade investments go to waste.