Cross-border traders are getting relief as efforts to reduce Non Tariff Barriers (NTBs) in the region continue to bear fruit.
NTBs refer to restrictions resulting from prohibitions, conditions, or specific market requirements that make importation or exportation of products costly.
According to a 2013 report by Microjustice4all, an organisation facilitating cross border trade, a total of 31 NTBs that hindered trade in the region have been eliminated, six of which were within Rwanda.
Seven NTBs were eliminated through bilateral negotiations between Kigali-Kampala and Rwanda-Tanzania while 18 were removed under the coordination of the East African Community Secretariat, says the report.
Alice Betty Ongwech, a consultant at Microjustice4all, said countries should facilitate regional trade for development.
“Political commitment exists but we also need more efforts at the high level. For example, the electronic single window system sometimes fails whenever there is no internet and transporters have to wait until the internet is back,” she said. The electronic single window system allows importers and exporters to clear their goods online.
Through the system, traders can send clearance documents online to all relevant agencies, including the Rwanda Revenue Authority, Magasins Generaux du Rwanda (Magerwa), and Rwanda Bureau of Standards, thereby saving time.
Jeanne Bayera, a trader and the chairperson of Gatuna cross-border traders cooperative, commended the countries’ efforts in dealing with trade barriers, though she said more is needed to ensure free movement of goods.
“There are still delays at border points. Trucks continue to queue waiting for clearance which leads to loss of value of our goods, especially the perishable products. We had agreed to remove the cross border fees but Ugandan authorities at the Gatuna border still charge it indirectly,” she said.
Emmanuel Nshimiyimana, a truck driver, cited weighbridges along the northern corridor and corruption on Kenya and Ugandan roads among the other challenges.
However, Vincent Safari, coordinator of the national monitoring committee on the elimination of NTBs under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, says removing trade barriers is work in progress.
He said most trade barriers were removed as a result of the new trilateral initiative among the leaders of Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya on facilitating free movement of goods as stipulated under the EAC common market protocol.
“NTBs cannot be removed at ago but there is political will to facilitate trade. We have signed a memorandum of understanding with Uganda and Tanzania and we are planning to do the same with Burundi to eliminate these existing barriers,” he said.
He pointed out that once Tanzania removes trade barriers along the central corridor, it will reduce the days trucks spend on the road from Dar port to Kigali from five to two or three.
The report, however, highlights that the long lines of vehicles at the Rwanda-Uganda border of Gatuna and delays in processing documentation were still a challenge.
It further indicates that lack of sheds at immigration offices at Gatuna was among the challenges hindering speedy clearance because whenever it rained, people lining up for travel clearance have to look for shelter.
The report also faults Rwanda Bureau of Standards staff for not working on weekends, making transporters to wait until Monday to clear their goods.
But Dr Mark Cyubahiro Bagabe, the RBS director general, said this was not true, as the standards body has four people who work on rotational basis over the weekend.
Following the establishment of a single customs territory at the port of Mombasa, Kenya, today trucks spend only five days to transport goods from Mombasa to Kigali down from 22 days before.