Regional countries have agreed to make trade between them and with other countries cheaper, faster and simpler, in a significant boost for economic integration in East Africa and continental trade facilitation.
Meeting in Nairobi under the first United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Africa e-Commerce Week, representatives from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda — who are members of the East African Community Customs Union and common market — said they would implement trade facilitation reforms.
These include reducing non-tariff barriers such as burdensome and incompatible product regulations.
The pledge was made on the sidelines of the e-Commerce Week under the moderation of Unctad Secretary General and former Kenyan trade Minister Mukhisa Kituyi.
Frederick Ngobi Gume, Uganda’s Minister for Co-operatives, whose country is currently chair of the EAC, said that this is an opportunity for countries in the region, many of which are landlocked, to sell their products within East Africa, in Africa and across the world.
“It also gives us an opportunity to simplify the import and export of commodities. Such an approach reduces bureaucracy, with online clearances reducing contacts at the border. This initiative will go a long way to stimulate trade within the EAC and further afield,” said Mr Gume.
“The EAC is a driving force in Africa, displaying good practice in the implementation of trade facilitation reforms. The EAC Secretariat has shown strong leadership, and I am confident this will continue for smooth implementation at the national, regional and, eventually, continental levels,” said Dr Kituyi.
Frank Martsaert, chief executive of TradeMark East Africa (TMEA), said that the organisation has had a strong partnership with the EAC Secretariat and partner states in increasing trade and deepening the regional integration agenda through investment in hard and soft trade infrastructure.
“Together with Unctad, we look forward to continued partnership and support to the region’s trade facilitation agenda as highlighted in the ministerial declaration,”said Mr Martsaert.
Most African countries on the other hand signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTFA) in March.
The AfCFTA seeks to establish an African free trade area by building on regional blocs such as the EAC where trading nations already work together.
The EAC declaration also aligns with the World Trade Organisation’s Trade Facilitation Agreement, which entered into force in February 2017.
In the declaration, EAC countries commit to supporting National Trade Facilitation Committees as the main vehicle for co-ordinating the implementation of the trade facilitation measures at the national level.
Intra-EAC trade, while low compared with other regions outside Africa, is the highest among regional economic communities in Africa at 19.35 per cent of exports.
“Unctad has supported the institutional architecture of trade facilitation in the East African region for many years. For example, we have helped launch trade portals, which simplify trade procedures and reduce the time and cost of trade transactions in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda — and soon in Tanzania,” said Dr Kituyi.
The Nairobi meeting, which was the first time a regional bloc in Africa has gathered at this level to pledge trade facilitation reforms in light of the AfCFTA and the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement, was organised by Unctad and the EAC Secretariat, with the support of TMEA and the International Trade Centre.