Importers are now relieved after the commencement of the single customs territory framework along the Northern Corridor that was officially operationalised early this month for goods entering the East African Community through the Port of Mombasa in Kenya.
Previously, under the transit system (old system), traders using the Northern Corridor have been struggling with enormous non-tariff barriers (NTBs) - Mombasa to Gatuna border – that were affecting their business operations and limiting their competitiveness in the EAC region.
Among such NTBs were the weighbridges, which were fixed barriers within EAC partner states. They included eight fixed weighbridges, excluding mobile ones between Mombasa and Gatuna border post. At the weighbridges, truckers were subjected to long queues and waited for long hours before they could be cleared by customs agents. However, with the introduction of the single customs territory, transporters are only subjected to only two weighbridges that are necessitated by the need to ascertain whether the trucks comply with the axle load regulations.
Before the single customs territory came into force, trucks would take between 18-21 days from Mombasa to Kigali because of the numerous non-tariff barriers along the way. But this has dropped to about six days with the implementation of the single customs territory, which is a tremendous improvement in trade facilitation that has made trade across the region more affordable and enjoyable.
East African Community member states also agreed to remove NTBs on the intra-regional trade, where under the pilot phase; it started with clearance of selected items made within the region to be cleared at the factory. This has reduced the amount of time taken to complete the clearance process. For instance, in clearing a truck of cement at Hima factory, a truck could spend 23 hours on inland clearance, four hours to process export and bond issues in Uganda, nine hours of driving from Hima in western Uganda to Kigali and three hours between Katuna/Gatuna on the Uganda/Rwanda border to finally be allowed to continue to Kigali.
With the single customs territory, a truck from Hima Cement factory only takes five hours of clearing process, nine hours of driving from Hima to Kigali and only one hour at Katuna/Gatuna border post.
Preparations are underway to make the single customs territory along the Central Corridor operational by July, 2014.
Once the single customs territory is operational along both corridors, the EAC region will be inter-linked than before, enabling business operations to expand, with traders enjoying immense benefits offered by the new system.
The writer is the head of media and customer relations at Rwanda Revenue Authority