KAMPALA - The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) has approved the amendment of the East African Community (EAC) Customs Management Bill to extend the application of the preferential tariff treatment under the Common Market for East, Southern Africa (COMESA) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) from the 31 December this year to 31 December, 2010.
The approved motion was moved by Abdullah Mwinyi from the United Republic of Tanzania on Monday during EALA’s last sitting in Kampala.
According to the Assembly, the amendment was necessary to enable continuation of preferential tariff treatment trade to goods imported under SADC and COMESA arrangements, since the Community has not yet resolved the Partner State’s multiple memberships to regional trade arrangements.
“This extension will enable the Community to develop and conclude comprehensive trade arrangements as a bloc with COMESA and SADC in pursuant to the directive of the Tripartite Summit to establish a Free Trade Area between the three Regional Economic Communities,” Mwinyi urged.
He added that the extension would also enable Partner States to continue trading with member States of COMESA and SADC without any disruption of the long established trade relationship that would otherwise have a negative effect on the economies of the Partner States and economic development of the Community.
The extension will also enable the Community to consolidate its positions as a configuration and a single bloc in the ongoing negotiations on Economic Partnerships Agreement with European Union and expansion of the market for EAC products and enhance competitiveness of EAC firms in the sub-region.
In support of the amendment, the Assembly agreed to have an extension of two years but urged the political leadership of five member States of the Community to urgently address the issue of multiple memberships that is posing challenges to the business community in the region.
“The business community in the region is paying heavily and losing money as a result of multiple memberships because in some countries within the EAC where they are supposed to pay less, they are forced to pay more because some countries like Tanzania are part of SADC which has its own tariffs,” said Bernard Mulengani, an EALA member from Uganda.
Since 2004 when East African Community Customs Management came into force, this will be the second time the Assembly is making an amendment following the imminent deadline of December 2008.
To that effect, the Assembly also suggested that the East African Community Customs Management Act should be amended permanently without including a timeframe (deadline) to facilitate trade since the political leadership of the community was taking long to make a decision on the issue of multiple memberships.
Honorable Patricia Hajabakiga, an EALA member from Rwanda, noted that while the amendment was necessarily to facilitate trade in the region, there is need for immediate consultations to address the issue of multiple memberships such that when the extended deadline approaches there will be no need for further amendment.
“Our political leaders must make a decision on the issue of multiple memberships, for instance Tanzania decided to leave COMESA! The EAC leadership must make up their minds if they want regional integration and consolidate it, otherwise we are wasting time,” said Mugisha Muntu, an EALA member from Uganda.
In response to the suggestions of the Assembly, Monique Mukaruliza, the chairperson Council of Ministers, said that the amendment will enable the Council of Ministers to expedite the process of addressing the issue of multiple memberships.