BWIRE: Unnecessary trade rows strangle EAC

Yoweri Museveni
President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) and Yoweri Museveni in a past meeting

Media reports that Uganda has banned cross border trade with Kenya, largely along its border point in Busia County is a pointer to the disquiet that has been simmering on between traders in the two countries.

And it’s a test to the challenges facing the actualization of the East African Community (EAC) common trade policies pitting those supporting protectionism against for free trade within the borders.

While the issue is of great concern, especially the standards and quality of goods, the issue of protection of local producers is ill advised.  We must support the issue of free trade, so that members in the EAC benefit from economies of production and free market.

Governments just need to ensure enforcement of quality standards of goods, and support local manufacturers in selling at competitive prices instead of heeding the call by stakeholders to engage in protective behaviour.

Already, countries in the EAC region are signatories several regional and global treaties which provide that business sector should benefit from improved services rendered by inspection and conformity assessment bodies and better product quality.

In Kenya, the government is running several initiatives aimed at ensuring that as many Kenyan products as possible access both regional and international markets as a result of the enhanced compliance with relevant international standards and technical regulations which have always remained a major hindrance to our products entrance to the larger global market thus, despite the country having several unique products has remained a poor exporter.

Just recently, the Association of Kenya Feed manufacturers through their Manager Humphrey Mbugua complained to the government about the flooding of the Kenya market with cheap and substandard animal feeds, which was threatening the sector, hence call for Government protection.

This was also followed by media reports about expert concern over importation of toxic poultry and related products into the country.

Government records show that Kenya mostly imports such products from Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa, but acknowledged that there is a quality issue on the products especially those alleged to be coming from the USA illegally which Government says is not captured in its records.

The Honorary Secretary of the Kenya Veterinary Association Dr. Kenneth Wameyo was quick to counter the call saying any protectionists’ interventions by any Government will spell doom for the EAC integration process.

Dr Wameyo says we rather within the region advocate for the development of laws and policies that promote the production of quality and affordable products that can move freely across the bodies, and establish strong quality control checks, which currently is the missing link.

Early this week, media reports in Uganda indicated that the Government stormed a factory in Kampala, which was producing fake eggs that had hit the market. A number of traders were arrested over the same.

The threats to ban cross border trade by any one of the EAC countries will be a big blow including to recent initiatives by Kenya and Uganda supported by a number of global and regional bodies to create a common platform for facilitating cross-border trade in fish and fishery products, using Busia Border.

The Busia Border pilot is among the several initiatives being implemented by partners in the business community as a way of increasing the level of intra trade volumes in Africa including.

Products from Kenya continue to face several challenges especially accessing external markets which have frustrated traders and entrepreneurs from the country as their products can compete well globally.

The  challenges range from poor marketing, inability to meet required standards by external markets; lack of access to the World Trade Organization (WTO) notifications by private sector and other public institutions, lack of institutional capacity of the inquiry points in meeting the standards and  poor capacity for online linkages.

Other challenges include lack of dissemination of information to private sector by Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) focal point.

In need, organizations such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) assisted by international agencies including the WTO, and UNIDO have  carried out campaigns to ensure products from Kenya access global markets but they are just a drop in the ocean.

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Story By Victor Bwire
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