In his closing statement at the 18th Virtual Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State of the East African Community, on December 22, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said that “despite the many achievements our community has achieved”, there is still work to be done. .
It is therefore imperative, said the President of the Summit, that all stakeholders combine their efforts to oversee the achievement of the objectives of the EAC Treaty and promote the East African dream.
Kenyatta reaffirmed the Summit’s commitment to the EAC integration process.
“We are certainly convinced that this is an effective vehicle for the economic development and prosperity of the peoples of East Africa. We therefore continue to prioritize the community agenda at national and regional levels, ”said Kenyatta.
Despite the “challenges we continue to face,” Kenyatta said, he was encouraged by the fact that “our quest for a path of greater solidarity and shared prosperity” within the region has continued to grow. ‘deepen.
Neither Kenyatta nor his counterparts have raised challenges such as the icy relationship between Kigali and Kampala, or the persistent delays in ratifying EAC protocols – which are slowing the bloc’s integration agenda – but it remains an air of optimism.
Kenyatta said: “Indeed, it is remarkable that work is progressing well in the implementation of the four pillars of EAC integration; namely the Customs Union, the Common Market, the Monetary Union and the Political Federation.
As noted, a key element of the leaders’ deliberations on December 22 was to advance DR Congo’s aspirations to join the EAC. On that day, Kenyatta, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda recommended that the impending negotiations paving the way for the admission of DR Congo to the bloc be undertaken with speed and efficiency. Burundian Vice President Prosper Bazombanza and South Sudanese EAC Minister Deng Alor Kuol represented their respective countries during the decision making.
In terms of geopolitical situation, DR Congo has the potential to open the Indian Ocean Corridor to the Atlantic Trade Corridor and connect the region with North Africa, Central Africa and other continental sub-regions. . Among other things, the admission of DR Congo presents enormous opportunities for the region in terms of improved market opportunities and collaboration to remove trade barriers.
Kenyatta said, “I see this as a testament not only to the success of the EAC project, but also to the opportunities that remain untapped. It is also an affirmation of our efforts to deepen integration and broaden cooperation, as the theme of this Summit sums up.
Seven of the 10 agreed steps of the DR Congo admission roadmap have already been undertaken; paving the way for the DR Congo to, in the very near future, bring to the bloc an additional market of about 90 million people and 49.87 billion dollars of GDP.
Role of the business community in pursuing integration
The EAC treaty recognizes the central role played by the private sector in the integration process and Kenyatta commended the business community for the role it continues to play in further integration.
He said: “As governments, we are committed to continuing to facilitate the exploits of our companies by improving the business environment in our respective countries, as well as by coordinating a more uniform and intra-EAC trade and commerce environment. more auspicious. “
At the EAC secretariat, the executive body of the Community, the Kenyan Peter Mathuki, who was not appointed general secretary until February, has a full base.
Nonetheless, Mathuki listed the steps taken by the Secretariat in accordance with the need to bring integration to the people. They include, he said, structured engagement with the private sector – in particular holding consultative meetings with the business community in all partner states to collect issues hampering private sector growth in the region and identify solutions.
In a virtual meeting in July, the Secretariat and the East African Business Council (EABC) launched the EAC-EABC Technical Working Group (TWG). The team will strengthen collaboration and partnership between the two institutions in order to improve the business environment.
Mathuki said, “We started a structured engagement with the private sector by setting up a technical working group with the EAC and private sector associations in different partner states and it worked well in solving the problems and seeing how to increase the intra-EAC trade. “
Relations between the organs and institutions of the EAC have also improved. The Secretariat, the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) and the leaders of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), said Mathuki, have forged a formula for collaboration “to that we are trying to improve ourselves and achieve the objectives of the Community “.
Regional response to Covid-19
The leaders met at a time when another variant of Covid-19, the so-called Omicron variant, believed to carry a higher risk of infection, had just been discovered in South Africa and was causing spikes in infection rates in their respective countries, across the continent and the globe.
At first, Kenyatta noted that leaders were challenged in this fifth wave of the disease and needed to work more closely and “align our health protocols”.
He said: “I am happy to note that the determination of EAC partner states to work together and put in place well-aligned strategies to tackle the pandemic has been emboldened. ”
According to John Bosco Kalisa, CEO of EABC, the main challenge has been an uncoordinated approach in tackling NTBs in addition to the various procedures and measures to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The private sector in the EAC needs to be very proactive in making its voice heard on emerging trade barriers and addressing competitive challenges,” Kalisa said. New times.
Traveling within the region has been a great challenge for, in particular, cross-border traders and other regional citizens due to multiple tests at varying costs.
To meet this challenge, said Mathuki, the EAC secretariat has developed an app called EACPass “to make it easier for citizens to travel, because once you are tested in a partner state it can be reflected in other states. partners and you do not I must not continue to re-test.
This has been adopted by regional ministers of health and will now be submitted to the Council of Ministers, the governing body of the Community, for consideration. Mathuki urged partner states to take a coordinated approach in the fight against the pandemic “so that our economies can recover”.
Sustainable financing mechanism
Given the challenges associated with the current model of financing the EAC budget, partner states have been working on a sustainable financing mechanism since 2008.
Undoubtedly, the divergent views still need to be ironed out before developing a sustainable financing mechanism for the EAC.
In November, the regional finance and economy ministers agreed to adopt a hybrid model in which 65% of the budget is funded equally by all partner states and 35% of the total budget is assessed on the basis of GDP. nominal average per capita of the partner states for the previous period. five years.
But the Council of Ministers later decided that the new proposal required further consultations and, as such, the Secretariat “is waiting for the Council to deliberate on this and conclude.”
To date, under the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, 42 (78%) countries have ratified the AfCFTA Agreement, including five partner states – Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda , Burundi and Tanzania.
Partner states collectively negotiated the AfCFTA as a bloc.
The EAC has submitted to the AfCFTA secretariat its initial tariff offers which currently include 86.9% of tariff lines and is striving to reach the 90% threshold for products to be liberalized within 10 years.
The EAC has also submitted a draft schedule of specific commitments on trade in services for liberalization in five priority service sectors – business, communication, finance, tourism and travel-related services, and transportation.
The current focus of AfCFTA negotiations is the finalization of schedules of tariff concessions, outstanding issues on rules of origin and schedules of specific commitments on trade in services.