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East African Common market at crossroads: what is the way forward?

Wednesday, 6th April, 2011

THE signing of the East African Common Market Protocol on July 1, last year, received overwhelming support across the five partner states.

Its operationalisation was expected to offer free market of goods, services, labour and capital across regional borders.

The protocol also provides means through which the nationals of the five member states would be allowed to exercise the right to establish and reside in any of the five member countries.

With the regional bloc having expanded to include Rwanda and Burundi, analysts were swift to point out the edge the bloc would present as a consuming population.

The overall objective of the East African Community Common Market Protocol has been stated as widening and deepening cooperation amongst the partner states.

This is to be realised through the augmentation of the four freedoms: free movement of persons, labour, goods and services, as well as granting the right of establishment and residence.

Reading through the protocol, one realises that it is among the best regional agreements, having profoundly borrowed from the flourishing regional blocs like the European Common Market.

Furthermore, any international treaty does not end at signing or ratification. The fruits of the agreement can only be realised when it is domesticated by the member states. Domestication of the treaty obliges the partner states to have in place enabling legislation that will serve to accord the treaty the force of law within their respective territories.

Therefore, the domestication would also enable the Community organs, institutions and laws to take precedence over similar national ones on matters pertaining to the truce.

For example Article 12 (1) of the Treaty obliges partner states to harmonise their labour policies, national laws and programmes to smoothen the progress of the free movement of labour within the community.

Furthermore, the partner states ought to either enact new laws or amend existing ones in line with the provisions of the protocol.

However, it should be noted that, all the gains to be enjoyed from the protocol will only be accomplished if there is the political will by the partner states to put into operation this protocol.

A number of partner countries have taken steps to bring into line the local laws within the protocol. For instance in Rwanda, the department of immigration through Parliament has amended the law to enable the East African Community citizens acquire “visit visas” to work and settle in Rwanda for the period of two years on renewable permits-a positive step towards allowing free labour movement.

On the other hand, a lot is yet to be done by majority of the member states in the area of legislative adoption of the protocol in order for the agreement to have a force of law.

Article 32 of the East African Common Market Protocol on harmonisation of Tax policies and laws stipulates that “The partner states undertake to progressively harmonise their tax policies and laws and remove tax distortions in order to facilitate free movement of goods, services and capital to promote investment within the community”.

This was in line with the partner states’ agreement to eliminate tariff, non-tariff and technical barriers of trade. These are some of the critical and decisive areas in which none of the partner states appear enthusiastic and passionate to put into operation and practice.

There is also bubbling suspicion and distrust among the partner states, with those having weak and pathetic economies and frail manufacturing sector feeling that the protocol is possible to be used as a tool by the bigger economies to exploit and make use of them.

This is fundamentally the explanation behind the unwillingness and reluctance by some countries to enact the necessary and required domestic laws.

Unless such uncertainties are addressed, the vision of an East African Common Market shall remain a fantasy or mere processes. Indeed, the real work is yet to be done in order to enable member states domesticate many of the provisions of the treaty.

The writer is the Youth Member of Parliament, Northern Region : Article Appeared in the New Vision Newspaper

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