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East African Business Council moves to eliminate regional trade barriers

East African Business Council Executive Director Lilian Awinja (left), shares insight with colleagues Patrick Obath (centre) and Keli Kiilu (right) (COURTESY PHOTO)

KAMPALA – The East African Community (EAC) has embarked on a new bid to remove barriers blamed for low intra-regional trade.

Under the initiative, about 200 experts from all the partner states would be trained on the best skills to fight trade bottlenecks in the region.

The East African Business Council (EABC), an apex body of private sector organizations, will spearhead the programme in collaboration with the International Trade Centre (ITC).

The four-year initiative took off in earnest in Arusha on Monday with the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two organizations.

This was followed by the commencement of the first such training on trade facilitation for business associations and trade experts from the region.

“Trade barriers remain high in East Africa. The private sector has to work with the governments to address this,” lamented Peter Mathuki, the EABC executive director.

This, according to him, has been compounded by delays and red tape which hampered the movement of goods across borders.

He said intra-EAC trade remained as low as 20 per cent due to what he described as unnecessary barriers, mostly non-tariff.

This, he says, contrasts sharply with intra-regional trade in other economic blocs such as the Southern Africa Economic Community (SADC) where intra-regional trade was 58 per cent.

Trade among the European Union (EU), which is funding the programme, currently stood at 68 per cent, he explained.

The capacity building initiative for trade facilitation in EAC will be implemented within the framework of the EU-EAC Market Access Upgrade Programme ( MARKUP) which was launched last year.

Mr. Mathuki said the partnership will support EABC to improve the capacity of the private sector and trade supporting institutions.

An ITC associate expert Ms Victoria said that the programme also falls on the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) which aims to lower trade barriers around the world and increase global trade.

The agreement came into force in February 2017 after the mandatory two-thirds of World Trade Organization (WTO) members ratified it and notified its acceptance.

Within the EAC bloc, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda are among the first WTO members to ratify the TFA. Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan are yet to ratify the agreement.

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