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A draft law could soon see countries that impose trade barriers within the East African Community prosecuted at a regional court.
A draft law could soon see countries that impose trade barriers within the East African Community prosecuted at a regional court.

The proposed Bill establishes the framework for a legally enforceable mechanism for the elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) within the East African Community (EAC).

It outlines a four-stage dispute resolution process that would culminate in the aggrieved parties taking their differences to the East African Court of Justice (EACJ).

“The decision of the East African Court of Justice shall be final and binding on parties in dispute,” reads the draft Bill.

The law has been a long time coming as landlocked countries within the bloc have been clamouring for rules to make it easier for goods to traverse the region.
NTBs are requirements other than the legally mandated trade tariffs that have a negative impact on the movement of goods, services, and other factors of production within an economic bloc.

They may include excessive bureaucracy, lengthy licensing procedures, corruption, roadblocks, as well as import and export bans.

In 2008, the EAC set up a time-bound system for the elimination of NTBs and set up national monitoring communities to spearhead the process.

However, the committees have little or no policing power and the progress towards total elimination of NTBs has been sluggish at best.

A World Bank report last year noted that only 30 per cent of the original NTBs identified in 2008 had been eliminated. Ironically, those that remained stubbornly resistant were “soft”— concerned with rules and regulations rather than infrastructure.

“...this reflects possibly an increased political resistance to consider NTBs for more rapid removal,” noted the bank.

The situation has seen traders and governments in landlocked EAC states — Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi —  protest given that they suffer the most due to delays in trade.

Rwanda was the first country to call for legal mechanisms to be put in place in order to accelerate the process of eliminating NTBs. This new push will be welcomed by traders in these landlocked countries.

“We were making all these decisions at the regional level but they were not getting much follow-through. This law will simply compel countries to implement these regional declarations,” said Dr Richard Sindiga, an economist with the Ministry of Commerce, Tourism and East African Affairs.

The draft Bill comes within the context of new NTBs that are emerging in the community. A March 2013 report notes that seven new NTBs emerged in the community in the first quarter of the year. Some 33 NTBs remained unresolved.

Among the new NTBs was the decision by Kenyan authorities to impose on Tanzanian wheat flour and rice duties reserved for goods coming from markets outside the community. Informal traders from Tanzania were also facing harassment by Kenyan authorities at the Namanga border post.