All the 5 East African states entered a common market Thursday, opening up a region of 126 million people for free trade and movement of residents.
The East African Community (EAC) comprising Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda hailed the beginning of the common market as “historic”.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said in a statement Thursday that his government “fully supports the protocol and has already begun harmonising our local laws to be in tandem with the requirements of the protocol.”
On Wednesday he ordered the waiver of work permit fees for the region’s residents.
The common market protocol was signed by the presidents of the five EAC countries in November. The bloc was founded in 1967, but collapsed 10 years later owing to conflicting political and economic interests.
It was revived in 1999 by Kenyan, Ugandan and Tanzanian leaders and a customs union established in 2005, setting common tariffs for external goods. The EAC is currently working to form a monetary union by 2012 and ultimately a political federation.
A statement by the EAC Secretary General, Juma V. Mwapachu, on the occasion of the commencement of its Common Market on July 1 has called on the partner states to start the hard work of exploiting all available opportunities arising from it.
The Common Market Protocol will facilitate the free movement of goods, labour and services.
Juma V. Mwapachu stressed that, while the commencement of the Common Market is a milestone for the EAC, what has been achieved so far is only the basic legal framework that outlines what needs to be done and implemented for the Common Market “to make meaning and have impact in transforming the lives of the EAC citizens”.
Thus, he said, the start-up of the EAC Common Market “means entry into the critical phase when the partner states must begin to determine how the Common Market Protocol should be put into effect. It marks the beginning of serious work at the EAC executive organ level, notably the Council of Ministers, in determining what regional-based interventions can and should be undertaken to speed up the process.”
However, “it is important to note,” he added, “that the EAC region has, in the past decade, seen a number of policy and legal measures being effected at partner states’ level that are within the ambit of the Common Market Protocol.”
The establishment of the Common Market is to be progressive and in accordance with schedules approved by the EAC Council of Ministers.
The Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly, Abdirahin Haithar Abdi, also said in a statement that “it should be clear to all that July 1, 2010 marks the beginning of the process of the Common Market stage of integration.”
He cautioned, however, that the implementation of the Common Market, which provides for the free movement of labour, goods, services, capital and the right of establishment “will be in a progressive manner.”