ARUSHA, Tanzania, Jun 28 – The East African region will in the next two days become a single market but the biggest challenge to the effective implementation of the Common Market Protocol is a change in people’s mindset.
EAC Director General for Customs and Trade Peter Kiguta said as the region inches closer towards deeper cooperation and integration, East Africans need to start having a regional outlook as opposed to being country-centric.
“We are dismantling the borders between the partner states and therefore unless people change their mindset to start thinking East African, then the work we are doing would be meaningless,” he cautioned.
The change in attitude was not only important for the governments but also for the private sector, he added.
This was particularly crucial for the private sector which the Director General said should not be asking governments to impose protectionist measures for their industries but instead seek to compete effectively.
“Even the private sector should move from national orientation to regional orientation. They should see East Africa as a bigger market, one market where they should now change their strategies from national to regional,” he said.
Doing so would enable them to ward off competition that is expected to intensify once the Protocol, which heralds the free movement of people, capital and goods and enjoyment of the rights of establishment and residence within the 126 million people region, comes into force on July 1.
“Any private sector that is going to plan on the basis of a corporate strategy that for example is Kenyan, will be adopting a wrong strategy; it will not work because competition will find you wherever you are,” he stressed.
The way to address this problem however is sensitisation of the people which Mr Kiguta said calls for the five member states to carry out aggressive campaigns to educate their citizens on the benefits they will accrue once the protocol is implemented.
This will also require governments’ and Local Authority officials to undergo rigorous training as well as making available the necessary documentations such as those relating to customs to ensure that they are accessible to majority of East Africans.
But as the process to encourage people to embrace the integration process persists, the Director General emphasised the need to continually undertake policy measures that support growth and economic development in the region.
He therefore underscored the importance of investing heavily in infrastructure as one way that can help speed up the region’s quest to become an integrated market and eventually a political federation.
“You cannot talk about a single market without linking East Africa and linking it with good roads, good railway systems, interlinking the power grids such that you can link production areas to markets,” he said.
Although he appreciated that some progress has been made in this front, he still decried the slow pace at which this is being done.
“Policy framework is fine, we are moving well but on the issue of infrastructure and how that is being implemented, we need to pay much attention to it,” he added.
Infrastructure development was just one of the pillars need to enable the region to actualise its objectives of deeper cooperation and integration; the other being the creation of a conducive environment for the business community to operate in.
The implementation of the Common Market Protocol is the third step in the process that aims to make the region stronger and while many contend that several stringent restrictions to trade and investment have been removed there are still those who feel that more needs to be done.
The persistent Non-Tariff Barriers and frequent policy reversals all of which hamper competitiveness are some of the issues that will be a big obstacle to both the implementers and the traders.
The harmonisation of laws has also not been achieved with some countries such as Kenya yet to for example amend legislations such as the Immigration and Employment Acts.
The political tension in Rwanda and Burundi seems to make matters harder but despite all these, Mr Kiguta was optimistic that in the years ahead, East Africa will be a vibrant, integrated region with united citizens.