Last week, Tanzania’s industry, trade and investment permanent secretary Elisante Ole Gabriel was in Kenya again for what is becoming a periodic bilateral ritual.
Prof Gabriel and Kenya’s trade Principal secretary Chris Kiptoo signed a deal to eliminate non-tariff barriers (NTBs).
A keen observer should by now have lost the count of how many times the two countries have signed such pacts in recent months. Perhaps the only new thing this time round was the choice of Mombasa as venue.
Otherwise, they have been reached before at the levels of trade lobby groups, PSs, ministers and even between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Tanzania’s John Magufuli.
A hint of the official inertia can be gleaned from the same list of pending disputes. They include multiple levies, inspection fees, failure to grant preferential treatment, slow customs procedures and slow implementation of the East African Community (EAC) directives.
Trade has always been based on a country’s comparative advantage. A country is supposed to concentrate on what it can produce efficiently for export.
In East Africa where countries produce identical primary goods and rely on same manufacturing technology, it is the NTBs and not the usual competition parameters like price and quality that determine survival.
Secondly, people will always buy what they cannot produce. That explains why Kenyans will always import more from South Africa with whom we share no common market. In short, NBS are here to stay.
Back to list of disputes brought before Dr Kiptoo and Prof Gabriel. The failure by Uchumi #ticker:UCHM and Nakumatt supermarkets to honour payment to suppliers is a nostalgic one.
If the region’s integration project has been slowed by the suspicions between Kenyans and Tanzanians, the two retailers have just compounded that historical problem.
It is not written anywhere but an ordinary Tanzanian believes that a Kenyan will always try to outsmart you in a business deal. That belief has everything to do with how community assets were shared after the 1977 collapse of an earlier integration effort.