NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 19 – Negotiations on the proposed East African Community (EAC) Common Market protocol are expected to be concluded in April this year, government officials have said.
This follows the extension of the December 2008 deadline to allow members of the negotiation team, drawn from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi to iron out what EAC Permanent Secretary David Nalo called ‘technical issues’ in the social services and the common market structure.
“When we had the fifth round of the negotiations (which started in July 2006), the high level delegation had reached consensus on 90 percent of the areas. But they were certain that areas where we were not in agreement with all the partner states, especially Tanzania, which was concerned about issues of land and the use of national identity cards as the basis of facilitating free movement,” he explained.
Free movement of goods, labour, services and the right to residence are some of the fundamental pillars of the common market, which the negotiators have agreed on.
However, Tanzania expressed concern over giving investors from other EAC states access to its land and argued that citizens from other member states should not be allowed to own huge tracts of land within the country once the common market comes in force. The member state also felt that its people would be short-changed in the labour market.
This position earned Tanzania the wrath of other partner states who accused it of dragging its feet in the adoption of resolutions and thus frustrating efforts geared towards the East African integration process.
Nalo also admitted to Capital Business that there were other issues that contributed to the delay. He said the delegates also needed time to adequately address institutional reforms issues that would accompany the new protocol as well as the working out of the implementation schedule.
He affirmed that the protocol would be ratified in April, while its official launch in 2010 was still viable.
“Missing the December deadline may appear that we have lost everything, but no. The timing of the protocol was sequenced in such as way that it takes over from the Customs Union (which came into force in 2005),” the PS explained.
Upon the end of the negotiations, a draft will be prepared and forwarded to the EA Council of Ministers for consideration. If approved, it will then be submitted to the regional Heads of State for endorsement.
The launch of the common market protocol would pave the way for a single monetary union and then a political federation.
Its implementation would help boost trade among the members with a population of 120 million people and a combined GDP of $41billion, as well as with other trading blocs.
Already the region has benefited immensely from the launch of the Customs Union with statistics showing that the volume of trade in EAC has expanded from $800million in 2003 to $1.2billion in 2007. Tariff levels have also come down significantly.
The system would allow for greater freedom of trade in commodities, movement of capital as well as labour and would also enable them to exploit economies of scale, promote efficiency and greater cooperation.
Nalo spoke during a workshop on how to eliminate the Non Tariff Barriers (NTBs) such as road blocks, inefficiencies at the ports of entry and exit and corruption that create hick ups in the business environment.