The East African Community has made efforts to eliminate the challenges posed by Non-tariff Trade Barriers (NTBs), creating various national and regional institutions to address their elimination. However, there has been less momentum from the civil society in this regard an element seen to have affected the dynamism in achieving set goals. Hence in efforts to fit the missing link, MicroJustice for All through its local subsidiary MicroJustice Rwanda (MJR) embarked on creating a coalition of civil society organizations which would yield a strong voice to demand for action against NTBs.
This would also work with already existing mechanisms so as to bring forth results in eliminating the same. To the above end, a two days’ workshop was organized (15th to 17th October) bringing together civil society entities, the private sector, and trade associations in Rwanda. The workshop had a presence of 15 institutions categorized as aforementioned.
Resulting from the workshop, it was found imperative to create a body representing the civil society in the fight to eliminate NTBs which was later named “The NTBs Elimination Coalition”.
According to MicroJustice Rwanda which spearheaded the creation of the coalition with support from Trade Mark East Africa, the East African Community (EAC) integration is still in early but crucial stages which have the potential to depict positivity or negativity on the phases ahead. “The customs union which has been undertaken so far by the EAC in respect of the Time-bound Implementation program is an important first step as it is a ‘pre-cursor’ of the subsequent and more complex integration phases such as the common market and aspired political integration”, part of the concept note for the coalition reads.
As the first ‘building block’ of integration, the customs union is also essential in garnering public involvement and support for the integration project; firstly by producing the benefits associated with regional integration. Thus “Failure to deliver such (trade) benefits may affect public trust in the integration process. This is particularly the case in Rwanda and Uganda, which both rely on the ports of EAC member states of Kenya and Tanzania and thus bear the accumulated costs of the NTBs along the trade corridors”.
Through the civil society coalition on the elimination of NTBs, it is targeted that activities including grass root researches on whether agreed activities to achieve targeted results are implemented will be undertaken. In the area of research, the coalition through its technical teams has scheduled to initially use the Gatuna border in establishing the benefits and challenges that traders continue to face even after the customs union was agreed upon back in 2010.
This will include collecting information from the modest users of borders so as to have information that is not influenced by the administration and thereby coming up with data that can be used in improving services. The element of research according to MJR will facilitate drawing periodical reports on what is working and the prevailing challenges. These will be fed to National Monitoring Committees (NMCs) on Non-Tariff Trade Barriers. NMCs are the institutions charged with the elimination of NTBs on the national level of each of the five EAC member countries. It is not to mean that nothing has been done so far in regards to NTBs. Countries like Rwanda and Uganda for instance have entered bilateral engagements to address the challenge.
Rwanda’s efforts for instance have led to such developments like the creation of the Electronic Single Window system. The US$ 3.33million project, the first of its kind in the Sub-Saharan Africa, is a web page that links government clearing agencies and traders and in so doing reducing the workload in moving documents across customs.
There are plans to link regional systems so that most of the clearing documents can be done simply and easily online. The civil society coalition on NTBs is ready to ride on the achievements of the governments and people of Rwanda and Uganda so that more can be achieved by demanding that agreed mechanisms are implemented while at the same time monitoring the process.