As the region prepares to implement the single customs territory late this month, stakeholders have called mechanisms to eradicate illicit trade and counterfeit products.
Experts argue that counterfeit products and illegal trade practices are threatening regional trade and, hence, promoting unfair competition across the East African Community (EAC) bloc.
John Abongs, the director quality assurance and inspection at the Kenya Bureau of Standards, noted that stamping out illicit trade will enable fair trade to flourish across the region.
Abongs, who was addressing the EAC private sector members during the East African Business Council (EABC) meeting in Nairobi on Friday, said though traders are excited about the forthcoming single customs union, there must be safeguards to handle eradicate illegal trade, including smuggling.
“We are currently at the process of harmonising inspection, certification where a single quality mark recognised by all member states will be embossed on commodities when they arrive and are cleared at the first point of entry. This will facilitate trade, but we must stamp out illegal business practices from the region,”Abongs urged.
He also noted that over 50 per cent of the region’s trade would be protected from illicit trade if distinctions between the public and the private sectors were made.
Andrew Luzee, the East African Business Council executive director, said a lot still needs to be done to boost regional trade, noting that it was at a miserable 11 per cent compared to other continental trade blocs.
“East Africa citizens are suffering under the burden of price hikes… If the region can control production-related costs such as transport and cheap imported sub-standard products, among others, this would ease business operations,” he told the dozens of regional delegates.
Dr. Enos Bakuku, the East African Community deputy secretary general, noted that using ICTs to harmonise customs systems and cargo tracking will help solve most of the trade barriers, including illicit trade.
“In order to be competitive, meet the demands of client, there is need to be innovative as far as doing business is concerned. We also need to build our capacity in relation to equipment and enhancing human resource expertise,” he noted.
Patrick O’neill, the head of security at British American Tobacco, called for consumer empowerment so that they can work as watchdogs if the fight against illicit trade in the region is to succeed.