At Last, Common Market Becomes Reality
Catherine Riungu (The East African)-- The East African Community officially ushered in a common market on Friday amid renewed commitment by the region’s heads of State to expedite the envisaged political federation by 2015.
The common market protocol was finally signed in Arusha, Tanzania, bringing to an end months of waiting and anxiety. Contentious issues nearly derailed the negotiations and the signing was pushed to this month from April. At a colourful ceremony to mark the bloc’s 10th anniversary that coincided with the bloc’s common market deal, the chair of the East African Community (EAC) council of ministers, Monique Mukaruliza, urged partner states to expedite its ratification at national level by the scheduled 1 July 2010 date.
Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Mwai Kibaki (Kenya), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Pierre Nkurunziza (Burundi), Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania) and Abeid Amani Karume (Zanzibar) nodded as Mukaruliza said the ball was now in the nations’ court. She said Rwanda was the only country in the region with a fast ratification policy, with Tanzania taking the longest time, of four months. Despite the disparities, she said, the EAC ministers had agreed to work closely with the respective countries to push the necessary ratifications within the shortest time.
Also present were the regional integration’s forums and officials such as attorneys-general, trade ministers, chief justices, permanent secretaries, and EAC ministers and their deputies. The coming into force of both the East African customs union and the common market will lead to a short-term loss of revenue as countries remove internal taxes and harmonise external duties as per the common external tariff guidelines. The expected loss is estimated to run into millions of dollars.
Rwanda, the only country that has done a full assessment, is looking at a loss of $12 million, but its EAC permanent secretary, Robert Ssali, said it is a small price to pay for the expected benefits. At the ceremony, President Kagame handed over the summit chair to President Kikwete. EAC secretary-general Juma Mwapachu had earlier told The EastAfrican that, in the regionalisation and globalisation era, no country could be on its own.
Protocol was a major milestone for the EAC and attested to its shedding of colonial boundaries and individualism and embracing of globalisation. The heads of State gave a deadline of six months for a detailed report on the timelines of the federation, and a committee of experts is to be formed immediately. Also being fast-tracked is a grand free trade area from Cape Town to Cairo, bringing together the EAC, the Common Market for East and Southern Africa, and the South African Development Commission that will remove trade borders among 26 African countries.
A conference in March will fine-tune the document to be signed by the presidents in April and become operational in December 2010.
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