Saturday, July 11, 2009

East Africa: EAC Will Not Implement the Comesa Customs Union Pact

Berna Namata - 10 July 2009, The New Times

East African Community (EAC) partner states will not implement the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Customs Union protocol as they are in advanced stages of establishing a fully fledged EAC Customs Union.

On June 7, 2009 Comesa launched its Customs Union that covers 19 member countries. With the exception of Tanzania, all EAC member states are members of the Comesa too.

Monique Mukaruliza, Rwanda's Minister in charge of East African Affairs revealed in an interview with The Business Times that EAC partner states did not sign the Comesa Customs Union protocol.

She said the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules and regulations block countries from belonging to two Customs Unions.

"But we have made arrangements to continue getting preferential treatment under the COMESA Free Trade Area (FTA) through the tripartite framework," she said.

Last year, the first EAC-SADC-COMESA Tripartite Summit in Kampala, Uganda embarked on a roadmap to create a single free trade area through merging regional economic blocs towards a single African Economic Community.

The summit agreed on a programme of harmonising trade arrangements amongst the three regional economic communities including approving the establishment of a free trade area encompassing the member states. The ultimate goal was to establish a single Customs Union.

Peter Kiguta, the Director General of EAC Customs and Trade also confirmed that EAC partner states will not effect the Comesa Customs Union since the two regional blocs have different instruments guiding implementation of the Customs Union.

"The issue is that Comesa has to see how to fit in the EAC framework. We were already in the Customs Union with our own instruments," Kiguta said.

He pointed out that for the Comesa Customs Union to be operational with the EAC Comesa has to negotiate with EAC partner states to decide on the implementation of uniform tariffs.

Kiguta also mentioned that the three (EAC, SADC and Comesa) have agreed through the tripartite framework to allow member countries to continue enjoying different trade arrangements.

"In the meantime EAC is the only one which has a Customs Union that is operational," he said, emphasising the need for Comesa to take into account the EAC Customs Union.

According to Kiguta, the three trading blocs are aware of the issue of overlapping membership and are trying to address it.

Members of Comesa and EAC are aware of that problem. They cannot accept a framework that will complicate doing business in the region rather facilitating it," he said.