Kenya: One Stop Helps but Lets Resist All NTBs

The recent official opening of the One Stop Border Post along the Kenya-Tanzania border is a significant event. However this does not mean Non-tariff Barriers (NTBs) will be dismantled. This can only happen when the political will is clear and present.

Partner States can increase trade amongst themselves by simply eliminating non-tariff barriers (NTBs). The quicker the better.

NTBs are basically any measure, apart from obviously high tariffs, aimed at restricting imports. The United States, China, the European Union and Japan are the top experts in coming up with various ways to keep certain imports at bay and protect their domestic producers or manufacturers.

However, Kiguta told participants at the 16th EAC Regional Forum on NTBs that intra-EAC trade will suffer unless are NTBs done away with. Occasionally, there may be a situation when import controls are an necessity, but the major challenge facing the regulation of non-tariff measures is where to draw the line between protectionist and non-protectionist non-tariff measures.

To be sure for all their loud talk of free trade, the Americans, Europeans and Japanese often use such provisions as rules of origin and rules relating to traceability to check imports of competing goods, especially foodstuffs. Or they impose a combination of such rules with preferential trade agreements, intending to cause more frustration as the degree of processing of agricultural products increases.

Other NTBs can include health and safety regulations, labelling schemes and environmental standards, such as those relating to palm oil exports.

As the regional market becomes more competitive with greater economic integration, some EAC countries are either taking up these negative aspects of international trade or have declined to budge on provisions technically deemed unfriendly for improved intra-EAC trade. Fair competition tends to result in more efficiency and lower prices.

The East African Business Council says NTBs impact unfavourably on business, increasing costs through official and unofficial payments to clear goods at the borders and general expenses incurred by businesses at border points.

EABC also cited lost business opportunities; value and quantity of wasted products during inspection and cost of time lost in understanding and complying with non-transparent and cumbersome procedures. This has a direct bearing on the region’s competitiveness.

It is true, the EAC Presidents have been firm over the issue of easing the flow of goods across the borders. Customs officials now work much longer hours than before.

Through the EAC Council of Ministers, the Presidents have also directed on the elimination of roadblocks and adopted the Single Customs Territory, all which have had a positive bearing on business.

One standardisation system for a host of products across the five countries is also being finalised.

However there are some things that remain ‘no go areas’. Most notable is sugar. Other areas that need attention include a common policy on work permits, cross-border tourism and liberalising the East African skies, so that more aviation companies can enter the industry.

The EABC thinks Partner States need to consolidate and demostrate their political and technical goodwill to the aspirations of the EAC Treaty. This will ensure that the decisions of the Council of Ministers are respected and domesticated through timely ammendments to national laws regulations and practices.

NTBs happen to be the EAC’s big elephant in the room. We all know about them, but no one wants to take the decisive first step to start dismantling them.

Probablty because it will mean paying a heavy political price at the national level. Perhaps that price would not be so high if citizens are given the true picture and not the half-truths banded about by the few self-interests that benefit from NTBs.

Source: All Africa