Address EAC states trade rows urgently

EAC Secretary-General Peter Mutuku Mathuki at a January 17 briefing in Nairobi. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

The disclosures by the East African Community Secretariat in its Trade and Investment Report (2022) that member states are trading more with countries outside the bloc owing to persistent trade disputes and non-tariff barriers (NTBs) should cause unease in partner nations.

The report reveals a new trend where member countries are doing increased business with the West African countries, Japan, USA, India, China and the United Arab Emirates at the expense of regional trade.

The intra-EAC trade remains low at 15 percent in 2022, Peter Mathuki, Secretary-General, EAC Secretariat noted, blaming it on the persistence of NTBs.

Trade barriers act as a covert tax, rendering trade cumbersome, inefficient, and costly. Ultimately, economies fall short of their potential as enterprise is stifled, and demand is suppressed due to excessively high prices.

Incessant squabbling running over the years among the partner states threatens to increase the NTBs as countries fail to find amicable resolutions to trade disputes and often end up introducing measures that obstruct free trade. So far, the EAC has resolved 23 out of 33 NTBs.

Since its revival in the 90s, the EAC has marked significant milestones among them expansion of the free trade area and free movement of citizens. The noble goals of widening and deepening cooperation in economic, political and social fields, upon which the EAC was established, must not be overshadowed by short-sighted and parochial domestic concerns.

Greater commitment to EAC is essential for fostering a more conducive and integrated regional economic environment. Therefore, member states must keep their eyes trained on policies that support regional integration and remove the bottlenecks.

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