East Africa private sector calls for changes to Trade Act

Monday April 9 2018

Rwanda-DR Congo border. NMG

Rwanda-DR Congo border. Trade at the border is mostly informal. There are concerns about businesswomen being sexually abused when accessing services at border posts. PHOTO | NMG 

By PATTY MAGUBIRA
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The East African Business Council (EABC) wants the EAC Elimination of NTBs Act, 2017 amended to ease doing business in the region.

EABC executive director Lilian Awinja said the private sector is unhappy with the law and asked the East African Legislative Assembly to amend it to capture the concerns of the business community.

“The Act has a good intention of eliminating NTBs, but owing to various limitations, its objectives will not be achieved,” Ms Awinja told a forum tasked with devising regulations for the Act, at a meeting held in Arusha on Tuesday.

The Act is meant to provide a legal framework for the removal of non-tariff barriers and a mechanism for identifying and monitoring their elimination.

She said eliminating identified NTBs is dependent on long and winding EAC processes, such as bilateral talks.

“The Act gives partner states leeway to eliminate NTBs at their own pace, which is not helpful to the business community as some of their goods are perishable,” she said.

Women-led businesses

The meeting was told that the EAC, SADC and Comesa have devised a mechanism for curbing NTBs on women-led businesses.

The Non-Tariff Measures and NTBs mechanism manager, Vonesai Hove, said the move follows the countries’ agreement made in 2009 to put in place platforms such as short text messages and e-mails for timely reporting of NTBs.

Ms Hove was responding to Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Ltd’s (UWEAL) concerns about businesswomen being sexually abused when accessing services at border posts.

UWEAL chief executive officer Connie Kekihembo told the forum that some Customs officials demand sex from women traders in exchange for services.

Josephine Robert from the East African Women in Business Platform said it took women more time to cross borders than men in the region, as Customs officials often ask them for personal favours.

“Many women report cases of sexual harassment and violence such as rape, imprisonment and confiscation of their goods,” she said.

Ms Awinja said that owing to the principle of consensus, Article 17 of the Act on sanctions will be difficult for the EAC Council of Ministers to implement.

The Article says the Council may recommend to the Summit to impose sanctions against a partner state that fails to comply with any directive, decision or recommendation of the Council.

“The Council of Ministers is also an interested party, so it cannot recommend sanctions on a partner state,” Ms Awinja said, proposing that the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) determine the matter, as it is an independent and non-political arm of the Community.

She further proposed that the Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism, arbitration by the Trade Remedies Committee, and petition to the EACJ be an integral part of the procedures in eliminating NTBs.

Ms Awinja said directives of the Council are sometimes ignored, citing a dispute on the Railway Development Levy that Kenya had imposed on the private sector.

The EABC reported the NTB to the EAC Sectorial Council on Trade, Industry, Finance and Investments, which directed the Kenyan government to stop charging companies from the region.

“Immediately thereafter, Tanzania imposed the same levy in pure disregard of the directive by the Council,” she said.

Kenneth Bagamuhundu, EAC Director General of Customs and Trade, concurred with Ms Awinja, saying removing tariff barriers was much easier than NTBs.

EAC principal trade officer Monica Mihigo allayed the private sector’s fears saying the Secretariat had initiated a process of reviewing the Act.

She said the process requires all partner states to submit their concerns on the Act to the sectoral council by September 28, for deliberations when they meet Nairobi.

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