It is now a year and half since Rwanda and Burundi acceded to the East African Community (EAC). Things now seem moving faster.
For those that have followed EAC evolvements, before Rwanda and Burundi joined the trade bloc, you might have realised that there’s now more seriousness and better political will.
This was indeed long over due because there’s nothing beats economic integration. All European countries are among world’s biggest economies because the European Union (EU) has gone through all levels of integration and succeeded.
EU’s market size is estimated at about Euros 10billion with 200,000 jobs. If things go as planned, EAC too has the potential to become one of the most competitive economic blocs.
Today, before even things get to the desired level, the trading bloc embraces a strong and large market of a combined population of 120 million people, has a land area of 1.8 million sq. kilometers with a combined GDP of US$ 41 billion.
Rwanda and Burundi were allowed a grace period of up to June next year before adopting the EAC customs union which advocates for a Common External Tariff (CET).
As we wait for that to happen, the EAC common market negotiations are ongoing; this has to be implemented by 2010.
But what should the layman like you and me expect of the Common Market? If negotiations succeed, the common market will address what we call “Four Freedoms”.
These are; Free movement of goods; Free movement of persons; Free movement of services; and Free movement of capital.
Since the negotiations started in April 2008, the High Level Task Force has been meeting, regularly, in Kigali (Rwanda), Nairobi (Kenya), Bujumbura (Burundi), Kampala (Uganda) and Zanzibar (Tanzania).
During these rounds of negotiations, the High Level task Force, which is representative of all five member states, has reached consensus on a number of aspects of the Common Market Protocol.
On the first freedom: Freedom of movement of goods; High Level task force agreed that free movement of goods will be governed by the existing EAC Customs Union Protocol and EAC Customs Law as well as the Protocol and Act on Standardisation, Quality Assurance and Testing.
On the second freedom: free movement of persons; the High Level task force have agreed, in principle, that there should be free movement of persons within the community.
However, consensus is yet to be reached on provisions governing the use of identity documents (IDs) issued by member states as a means to facilitate movement of persons within the Community.
Apart from Tanzania, other member states have agreed to this. However, it should be noted that the use of IDs cannot be done without an effective system of control in place.
As regards the third freedom: Free movement of EAC workers; the task force agreed that workers will move freely within the Community.
The freedom of movement of workers will involve harmonisation of labour laws, policies and programmes; harmonisation and mutual recognition of academic and professional qualifications as well as of social security policies.
On the right of establishment, the provisions of the Draft Protocol intend to cater for the movement of self employed persons and their families.
The task force agreed that the right of establishment entails the right to among other things; take up and pursue activities as self employed persons, set up and manage economic undertaking; and set up agencies, branches and subsidiaries.
On the right of residence, the task force undertook to guarantee right of residence to nationals who have been admitted in their territories as either “workers, or self-employed persons” and their dependants.
However, the main contentious issue has been the permanent residence to workers or self-employed persons who will have spent a period of time working or operating in a partner state.
On the freedom of movement of services, they also agreed that there shall be free movement of services in the Community.
They agreed to remove, progressively, existing restrictions and shall not introduce any new restrictions that may impede free movement of services in the community.
In addition, the task force also agreed on the provisions that will govern the free movement of capital within the EAC Common Market.
These include, among others, elimination of restrictions on movement of capital and foreign exchange policy coordination.
The task force agreed to undertake the harmonisation of their economic policies to ensure the macroeconomic stability and balanced development for the smooth functioning of EAC Common Market.
Rwanda may have to reconsider its ban of right hand drive vehicles because High Level task force agreed to harmonize their transport policies, regulation and standards and jointly maintain the competitive transport infrastructure in the community.
There was also consensus to approximate national laws.
The meeting of the Multi-Sectoral Council of Ministers on Common Market negotiations held in Zanzibar on 12th November 2008 extended the timeframe for concluding and signing the EAC Common Market Protocol to April 2009.
The negotiators had been given up to December 2008 to finish drafting the protocol and the related technical work. However, this has not worked and more time is needed.