The East African Community (EAC) leaders have directed partner states’ ministers in charge of EAC affairs to resolve long-standing unresolved non-tariff barriers (NTBs) and report to the next summit.
The directive was made at the EAC Heads of State Summit on Saturday in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.
It comes after the Council of Ministers had also called for an end to a host of long-standing unresolved NTBs hindering trade in the region.
“The heads of state noted with concern the declining intra-EAC trade and directed the Council to resolve the long-outstanding non-tariff barriers and report to the 19th summit,” reads part of a joint communique issued after the summit.
Meeting before the summit, the central decision-making and governing organ of the regional bloc raised concerns that at least 19 non-tariff barriers remain unresolved as reported by a monitoring tool that was put in place.
The ministers specifically raised concern over four longstanding NTBs whose solution, they said, requires policy guidance.
They include the restriction by Uganda on beef and beef products from Kenya, since 1996.
Others are requirement by Tanzania that cigarettes manufactured in Kenya and exported to Tanzania should have a 75 percent local content, and requirement by the Tanzania Foods and Drugs Authority (TFDA) that companies exporting to Tanzania should register, re-label and retest goods certified by other partner states.
This trade barrier has existed since 2003.
Raymond Murenzi, director-general of the Rwanda Standards Board (RSB), told The New Times that the issues concerning the TFDA are “very serious” as it is “very difficult for our products to be exported to Tanzania.”
Another major trade barrier that the Council says has existed since 2009 is inadequate coordination among the numerous institutions involved in testing and clearance of goods at the borders.
Before the summit pronounced itself on the matter, the Council had recommended that the former directs the EAC Secretariat to convene a dedicated session of ministers of trade and ministers responsible for EAC affairs and planning to resolve all the unresolved NTBs by August 30.
The Council was also of the view that only NTBs that have been reported by the Sectoral Council on Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment (SCTIFI) should be included in the annual report of the Council to the summit.
Tanzania reasoned that the matter should not be part of the report as the SCTIFI had already considered and deliberated on complaints raised pertaining to the TFDA in requiring companies exporting to Tanzania to register, re-label and retest certified products from other partner states.
Tanzania’s position is that technical regulations are not NTBs but international best practice for countries having food and drugs authorities and the country informed the meeting that the technical regulations enforced by TFDA are “mandatory and are in accordance with the EAC harmonized standards.”
Consequently, it is noted, TFDA is simply enforcing or implementing the requirements of East African harmonised standards.
Tanzania also reasons that its processes are not discriminatory but apply to imported and domestically produced products.
Retesting, it says, is done by TFDA for surveillance samples drawn during post marketing surveillance.
However, other partner states do not agree with Tanzania and insist that the issues need to be resolved urgently.
“Kenya informed the meeting that TFDA has continued to require labeling and retesting of drugs from partner states into Tanzania that already carry the marks of quality which are recognised by all partner states bureau of standards,” reads part of the Council’s report.
Further, Kenya says, the matter is in the time bound matrix used to monitor elimination of NTBs and as such the continued delay of clearance of the products frustrates movement of trade in the region needs to be resolved urgently.
Kenya and Uganda are of the view that the requirement by TDFA is an NTB that has remained unresolved for long and should be retained in the report.
“Removing the item from the annual report of the Council to the summit does not address the NTBs, yet addressing NTBs is a matter of critical importance given the declining intra-EAC trade,” reads the Council’s report.
During the Council meeting, it is reported that Rwanda as well expressed concern over whether this issue is a technical barrier to trade or a non-tariff barrier.