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AGOA States-GAO

“Is the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) always a poisoned chalice from the United States of America?”, asks an editorial in The East African. The Kenya newspaper suggests it appeared to be so after the US allowed a petition that could see Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda lose their unlimited opening to its market.

This follows the US Trade Representative assenting last week to an appeal by Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association, a used clothes lobby, for a review of the three countries’ duty-free, quota-free access to the country for their resolve to ban importation of used clothes, the The East African continues.

The US just happens to be the biggest source of used clothes sold in the world. Some of the clothes are recycled in countries like Canada and Thailand before being shipped to markets mostly in the developing world.

In East Africa, up to $125 million is spent on used clothes annually, a fifth of them imported directly from the US and the bulk from trans-shippers including Canada, India, the UAE, Pakistan, Honduras and Mexico.

The East Africa imports account for 22 percent of used clothes sold in Africa. Suspending the three countries from the 2000 trade affirmation would leave them short of $230 million in foreign exchange that they earn from exports to the US.

That would worsen the trade balance, which is already $80 million in favour of the US. In trade disputes, numbers do not tell the whole story. Agoa now appears to have been caught up in the nationalism sweeping across the developed world and Trumponomics.

US lobbies have been pushing for tough conditions to be imposed since it was enacted, including the third country rule of origin which would require that apparel exports be made from local fabric.

The rule, targeted at curbing China’s indirect benefits from Agoa through fabric sales, comes up for a legislative review in 2025, making it prudent for African countries to prepare for the worst. Whether that comes through a ban or phasing out of secondhand clothing (the wording that saved Kenya from being listed for a review) is immaterial.

What is imperative is that African countries have to be resolute in promoting domestic industries. In textiles and leather, for instance, that effort should include on-farm incentives for increasing cotton, hides and skins output, concessions for investments in value-adding plants like ginneries and tanneries and market outlets for local textile and shoe companies.

The world over, domestic markets provide the initial motivation for production before investors venture farther afield. Import bans come in handy when faced with such low costs of production in other countries that heavy taxation still leaves those products cheaper than those of competitors in the receiving countries.

The US has also been opposed to heavy taxation of used clothes, which buyers say are of better quality and more durable. For Kenya to be kept out of the review, it had to agree to reduce taxes on used apparel.

These factors have left Agoa beneficiaries in a no-win situation: Damned if you ban, damned if you do not. With their backs to the wall, beneficiaries like Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda have to think long term in choosing their industrial policies and calling the US bluff.

Beneficiaries must speak with one voice to effectively guard against trade conditions that over time hamper domestic industrial growth. Source: The East African, Picture: US GAO

KRA-Customs-Transit-Control

Kenya Revenue Authority Commissioner-General John Njiraini announces the implementation of a common customs and transit cargo control framework to rid Mombasa port of corruption

Four East African countries on Tuesday agreed to fast-track implementation of a common customs and transit cargo control framework to enhance regional trade.

Commissioners-general from the Kenyan, Ugandan, Rwandan and Tanzanian revenue authorities said adoption of an excise goods management system would curb illicit trade in goods that attract excise duty across borders.

They said creation of a single regional bond for goods in transit would ease movement of cargo, with taxation being done at the first customs port of entry.

The meeting held in Nairobi supported formation of the Single Customs Territory, terming it a useful measure that will ease clearance of goods and reduce protectionist tendencies, thereby boosting business.

Implementation of the territory is being handled in three phases; the first will address bulk cargo such as fuel, wheat grain and clinker used in cement manufacturing.

Phase two will handle containerised cargo and motor vehicles, while the third will deal with intra-regional trade among countries implementing the arrangement.

The treaty for establishment of the East African Community provides that a customs union shall be the first stage in the process of economic integration.

Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) commissioner-general John Njiraini said the recently introduced customs and border control regulations were designed to enhance revenue collection and beef up security at the entry points.

“At KRA, we have commenced the implementation of a number of revenue enhancement programmes particularly on the customs and border control front that will address security and revenue collection at all border points while enhancing swift movement of goods,” he said.

To address cargo diversion cases, the regional revenue authorities resolved that a joint programme be rolled out to reform transit goods clearance and monitoring processes. Source: DailyNation (Kenya)

flags2African countries are coming under strong pressure from the United States and the European Union to reverse the decision adopted by their trade ministers to implement the World Trade Organization’s trade facilitation agreement on a “provisional” basis.

At last week’s summit of African Union leaders in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, “there was unprecedented [U.S. and European Union] pressure and bulldozing to change the decision reached by the African trade ministers on April 27 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to implement the trade facilitation (TF) agreement on a provisional basis under paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration,” Ambassador Nelson Ndirangu, director for economics and external trade in the Kenyan Foreign Ministry, told IPS.

“This pressure comes only when the issues and interests of rich countries are involved but not when the concerns of the poorest countries are to be addressed,” Ambassador Ndirangu said.

“Clearly, there are double-standards,” the senior Kenyan trade official added, lamenting the pressure and arm-twisting that was applied on African countries for definitive implementation of the agreement.

The TF agreement was concluded at the WTO’s ninth ministerial conference in Bali, Indonesia, last year. It was taken out of the Doha Development Agenda as a low-hanging fruit ready for consummation. More importantly, the agreement was a payment to the United States and the European Union to return to the Doha negotiating table.

The ambitious TF agreement is aimed at harmonising customs rules and regulations as followed in the industrialised countries. It ensures unimpeded market access for companies such as Apple, General Electric, Caterpillar, Pfizer, Samsung, Sony, Ericsson, Nokia, Hyundai, Toyota and Lenovo in developing and poor countries.

Former WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy has suggested that the TF agreement would reduce tariffs by 10 percent in the poorest countries.

In return for the agreement, developing and least-developed countries were promised several best endeavour outcomes in the Bali package on agriculture and development.

They include general services (such as land rehabilitation, soil conservation and resource management, drought management and flood control), public stockholding for food security, an understanding on tariff rate quota administration, export subsidies, and phasing out of trade-distorting cotton subsidies (provided largely by the United States) in agriculture.

The non-binding developmental outcomes include preferential rules of origin for the export of industrial goods by the poorest countries, a special waiver to help services suppliers in the poorest countries, duty-free and quota-free market access for least developed countries (LDCs), and a monitoring mechanism for special and differential treatment flexibilities.

African countries were unhappy with the Bali package because they said it lacked balance and was tilted heavily in favour of the TF agreement forced by the industrialised countries on the poor nations.

The Bali outcomes, said African Union Trade Commissioner Fatima Acyl, “were not the most optimal decisions in terms of African interests … We have to reflect and learn from the lessons of Bali on how we can ensure that our interests and priorities are adequately addressed in the post-Bali negotiations.”

The African ministers in Malabo directed their negotiators to propose language on the Protocol of Amendment – the legal instrument that will bring the TF agreement into force at the WTO – that the TF agreement will be provisionally implemented and in completion of the entire Doha Round of negotiation.

African countries justify their proposal on the basis of paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration which enables WTO members to implement agreement either on a provisional or definitive basis.

The African position on the TF agreement was not acceptable to the rich countries. In a furious response, the industrialised countries adopted a belligerent approach involving threats to terminate preferential access.

The United States, for example, threatened African countries that it would terminate the preferential access provided under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) programme if they did not reverse their decision on the TF, said a senior African trade official from Southern Africa.

The WTO has also joined the wave of protests launched by the industrialised countries against the African decision for deciding to implement the TF on a provisional basis. “I am aware that there are concerns about actions on the part of some delegations [African countries] which could compromise what was negotiated in Bali last December,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said, at a meeting of the informal trade negotiations committee on June 25.

The African decision, according to Azevedo, “would not only compromise the Trade Facilitation Agreement – including the technical assistance element. All of the Bali decisions – every single one of them – would be compromised,” he said.

The United States agreed with Azevedo’s assessment of the potential danger of unravelling the TF agreement, and the European Union’s trade envoy to the WTO, Ambassador Angelos Pangratis, said that “the credibility of the negotiating function of this organisation is once again at stake” because of the African decision.

The United States and the European Union stepped up their pressure by sending security officials to Malabo to oversee the debate, said another African official. He called it an “unprecedented power game rarely witnessed at an African heads of nations meeting.”

In the face of the strong-arm tactics, several African countries such as Nigeria and Mauritius refused to join the ministerial consensus to implement the TF agreement on a provisional basis. Several other African countries subsequently retracted their support for the declaration agreed to in April.

In a nutshell, African Union leaders were forced to change their course by adopting a new decision which “reaffirms commitment to the Doha Development Agenda and to its rapid completion in accordance with its development objectives.”

The African Union “also reaffirms its commitment to all the decisions the Ministers took in Bali which are an important stepping stone towards the conclusion of the Doha Round … To this end, leaders acknowledge that the Trade Facilitation Agreement is an integral part of the process.”

Regarding capacity-building assistance to developing countries to help them implement the binding TF commitments, African Union countries still want to see up-front delivery of assistance. The new decision states that African Union leaders “reiterate in this regard that assistance and support for capacity-building should be provided as envisaged in the Trade Facilitation Agreement in a predictable manner so as to enable African economies to acquire the necessary capacity for the implementation of the agreement.”

The decision taken by the African leaders is clearly aimed at implementing the TF decision, but there is no clarity yet on how to implement the decision, said Ndirangu. “We never said we will not implement the TF agreement but we don’t know how to implement this agreement,” he added.

In an attempt to ensure that the rich countries do not walk away with their prized jewel in the Doha crown by not addressing the remaining developmental issues, several countries – South Africa, India, Uganda, Tanzania, Solomon Islands and Zimbabwe – demanded Wednesday that there has to be a clear linkage between the implementation of the TF agreement and the rest of the Doha Development Agenda on the basis of the Single Undertaking, which stipulates that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed!

More than 180 days after the Bali meeting, there is no measurable progress on the issues raised by the poor countries. But the TF agreement is on course for final implementation by the end of 2015. Source: Inter Press Service

PAUL-KAGAME-WINDOW-SYSTEMPresident Paul Kagame yesterday launched Kenya National Electronic Single Window System seen as a major boost for regional trade since it will simplify clearance processes of goods.

The launch was part of the activities of the 5th Northern Corridor Integration Projects Summit held in Nairobi, and was attended by Presidents Kagame, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Yoweri Kaguta of Uganda, as well as the second vice president of Burundi and Tanzania’s prime minister.

Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya – which heavily rely on the Kenyan port of Mombasa – are spearheading a series of joint projects aimed at fast tracking regional development through joint infrastructure, trade and political and economic integration.

The use of Electronic Single Window System is expected to centralise trade services such as tracking of goods, custom clearance, and electronic payment including through mobile money.

The system will also integrate with Kenya Revenue Authority, making the clearance at Kenyan ports a lot faster and easier.

“I just want to reiterate how this is one of many important projects that the East African Community partner states have undertaken to deepen integration that we have been seeking, make business more efficient, and lower the cost of doing business as we move forward,” Kagame said at the launch.

Making tech tick

He reiterated Rwanda’s “continued active participation towards making integration a reality.” President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto described the Single Window System as yet another building bloc in the EAC integration process.

“Our ultimate vision should be to implement an EAC Regional Single Window platform. The benefits from this initiative may not be fully realised unless all of us in the region adopt National Single Window Systems.

“Our brothers in Rwanda are already implementing a Single Window System and similar efforts are underway in Tanzania and Uganda,” Kenyatta said.

The Kenyan leader said the technology will make it possible for traders to submit information about their goods to multiple government agencies in multiple locations, making business faster and more efficient.

After the launch of the Kenya National Electronic Single Window System, also known as Kenya TradeNet, the Heads of State and Government discussed the progress of several other projects under the Northern Corridor initiative. Source: AllAfrica.com

Dr Richard Sezibera meets His Highness the Agha Khan at the EAC Headquarters in Arusha. (Sunday Times Rwanda)

Dr Richard Sezibera meets His Highness the Agha Khan at the EAC Headquarters in Arusha. (Sunday Times Rwanda)

Overlapping membership in several trade areas is impeding “free circulation of goods” within the East African Community-members states, a regional integration and trade expert has said.

Alfred Ombudo K’Ombudo, the Coordinator of the EAC Common Market Scorecard team, has told The News Times that belonging to other trade blocs outside the EAC makes members reluctant to remove internal borders to allow goods to move more freely.

According to K’Ombudo, a Common External Tariff (CET) is critical to ensure free circulation of goods through the application of equal customs duties. The EAC Customs Union protocol has a three-band structure of 0 per cent duty on raw materials, 10 per cent on intermediate goods and 25 per cent on for finished goods.

However, of the five partner states, Tanzania is a member of the SADC and subscribes to a different structure while Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, are members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa). On the other hand, Burundi belongs to the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).

This, according to the expert is “perforation of the bloc’s CET,” drilling a hole in the regions tariff structure as member- states trade with other countries below the agreed tariffs.

“This makes EAC countries less willing to remove internal borders because they are not sure whether goods may have come from other blocs. This is a serious structural problem that is difficult to solve because the customs union legally recognises other blocs that members belong to,” K’Ombudo noted.

Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda’s participation in Comesa and Tanzania’s membership to SADC is recognised by the EAC, but no exception is granted to Burundi for participating in the ECCAS.

Article 37 of the bloc’s Customs Union Protocol recognises other free trade obligations of partner states but it requires them to formulate a mechanism to guide relationships between the protocol and other free trade arrangements.

EAC Secretary General, Richard Sezibera, told The New Times during the launch of the Scorecard in Arusha, that there have been efforts to address the issue of overlapping membership.

“They [EAC leaders] have done two things to [try] addressing it: One is to harmonize the CET of the EAC and that of COMESA. This makes it easier for COMESA states to reduce the level of perforation,” he explained.

He added that in 2008, the heads of state decided to negotiate a free trade area between the EAC, COMESA and SADC as another way of fixing the problem.

Dr Catherine Masinde, the Head of Investment Climate, East and southern Africa at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), said: “If we were not to perforate the EAC would end up with a bigger volume of trade figures”.

She noted that since the launch of the EAC Customs Union, in 2005, the region has witnessed strong growth in intra-regional trade, rising from $1.6 billion to $3.8 billion between 2006 and 2010. Intra-EAC trade to total EAC trade grew from 7.5 per cent in 2005 to 11.5 per cent in 2011.

“This is significant growth but, I am told that this is, in fact, a drop in the ocean. That it is far from the potential of the market. I was given a figure, that $22.7 billion [in inter-regional trade] was actually lost to other regional blocs, from this region, [between 2005 and 2012] because of non-compliance with the common market protocol.” The Scorecard, Masinde hopes, will solve various EAC compliance issues as well as energize reforms to spur the bloc’s development. Source: The Sunday Times (Rwanda)

Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya), Paul Kagame (Rwanda) and Yoweri Museveni after the trilateral talks in Entebbe, Uganda. President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi stayed out of the loop of the third infrastructure summit in Kigali, Rwanda on Monday. [Photo/PPS]

Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya), Paul Kagame (Rwanda) and Yoweri Museveni after the trilateral talks in Entebbe, Uganda. President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi stayed out of the loop of the third infrastructure summit in Kigali, Rwanda on Monday. [Photo/PPS]

Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have postponed the single customs territory (SCT) roll-out, giving Burundi and Tanzania more time to prepare for the shift.

East Africa Community (EAC) secretariat custom officer Ally Alexander told the committee on Communication, Trade and Investment in Mombasa that the implementation of the model would begin in June.

“We are looking at reducing the costs and number of days to clear the cargo from Mombasa to Kampala to take three days instead of the previous 18 days,” Mr Alexander said.

The SCT was initially planned to begin in January with the three countries moving their revenue staff to common entry and exit points to begin goods clearance. But Tanzania and Burundi protested their exclusion in the arrangement after Kenya announced in January that it was ready to start accommodating revenue officials from the two landlocked states in Mombasa, prompting the three States to go slow on their plans.

On Monday, Mr Alexander told East African Legislative Assembly that SCT would reduce the cost of doing business and bring efficiency in trade. He said for exports within the region, a single regional bond for cargo would be issued to cater for goods from the port of Mombasa to different destinations.

An electronic cargo tracking system would also be used to avoid diversion of goods into the transit market. Under the model, goods will be checked by a single agency on compliance to regional standards and instruments.

“We want to avoid agencies replicating checking on standards, when it is done once this will not be repeated,” he said.

Mr Alexander said goods would be released upon confirmation that taxes have been paid and customs procedures fulfilled.

However goods heading to the Democratic Republic of Congo which is not a member of EAC will be cleared on a transit basis.

The establishment of SCT has raised concerns among stakeholders, key among them the registration of clearing agents and job losses. Kenya Revenue Authority deputy commissioner customs Nicholas Kinoti said the concerns would be addressed through legislations. Source: http://www.businessdailyafrica.com

East%20Africa%20mapIn the spirit of stronger East African integration, the revenue authorities of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have started preparations for the implementation of a Single Customs Territory. The Commissioners’ General of the three East African countries deliberated on the mechanisms to operationalize the decisions of the heads of state who have continuously called for its fast tracking.

On June 25, 2013 at the Entebbe State House in Uganda, a Tripartite Summit involving the three heads of state issued a joint communiqué directing among other things the collection of customs duties by Uganda and Rwanda before goods are released from Mombasa. The leaders also agreed that traders with goods destined for warehousing should continue executing the general bond security.

During the meeting, the Commissioners’ General of the three countries put in place joint technical committees on ICT, Business Process, enforcement, change management, legal and human resource to discuss the implementation road map.

In a statement signed by the three Commissioners’ General, they said that the development of a Single Customs Territory will positively impact on the trading activities of the three countries as it will ensure that assessment and collection of taxes is done at the country of destination before cargo moves out of the port.

“As a result, the East African Community Customs Union will join the ranks of other Customs Union such as South African Customs Union and the European Union among others. Under this arrangement, restrictive regulations are eliminated as the corridor is now considered for customs purposes. For clarity, circulation of goods will happen with no or minimal border controls,” reads the statement in part.

Kenya said it would cut red tape holding up millions of dollars of imports into its landlocked neighbours Rwanda and Uganda, by letting the countries collect customs on goods as they arrive in its port at Mombasa. Goods can currently face long delays as agents process the paperwork to release cargoes from warehouses at east Africa’s biggest port, and later make separate arrangements to pay import duties at Kenya’s borders with Uganda and Rwanda.

Officials said the new system, due to be introduced in August, would clear inefficiencies and blockages seen as a major barrier to trade in the region. But clearing agents in Kenya said it could also cost thousands of jobs in warehouses, freight firms and almost 700 clearing and forwarding companies operating in the country.

Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, together with Burundi and Tanzania, are members of the regional East African Community trade bloc, with a joint gross domestic product of $85 billion.

Kenyan tax officials said the new system would allow a “seamless flow of goods” and make it easier to stop goods getting through the system without customs payments. “Once cleared at the port, there will be no stoppages at borders and checkpoints along the corridor,” the Kenya Revenue Authority’s commissioner of customs, Beatrice Memo, told a news conference.

Under the system, Rwandan and Ugandan clearing agents and customs officials would be able to set up their own offices to clear cargo and collect taxes directly at the port. The Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association said that meant up to half a million jobs could be lost to Uganda and Rwanda. “The Government has not consulted us … and we totally reject it,” said  Association chairman Boaz Makomere. Sources: East African Business Week (Kenya) & The New Vision (Uganda).

The following article featured in The New Times (Rwanda) provides a snap shot of developments towards a future “Customs Union” in East Africa. While valid concerns are being expressed by traders, how close are the respective Customs administrations in terms of common standards (tariff, regimes, etc), and the application of common external border procedures? The rest of Africa should follow this process closely. Unlike the EU, where it is incumbent of prospective Customs Union members to first attain and implement minimum customs standards prior to accession, here you have a pot-pourri of member states who apply national measures aspiring to an ultimate regional standard. Who determines this standard? Who is going to maintain ‘watch’ over the common implementation of such standards? Forgive the long article – this is a very significant development for the African continent.

0c8d8_logo_of_east_african_community_eac_-63ae9With the East Africa Community integration process gaining pace rapidly, clearing and forwarding agents have been advised to set up shop at entry ports under the proposed single customs territory.

Angelo Musinguzi, the KPMG tax manager, who is representing traders on the team of experts negotiating the establishment of the single customs territory, challenged the agents to look at the opportunities that the policy brings instead of focusing on how it will harm their businesses. “You need to look at this as an opportunity for business expansion because this policy will remove trade tariff barriers, duplication of time-consuming and costly processes and corruption. This will improve efficiency and reduce the cost of doing business,” he said.

The advice follows a deal reached by Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda where top customs officials from landlocked Rwanda and Uganda will be stationed at Mombasa port to ensure quick clearing of goods and curb dumping of cheap products in the region. Under the deal, Kenya will create space for its partners to set up customs clearing units.

Rwanda was given the task of establishing the single customs territory at the recently-concluded meeting between Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni held in Entebbe, Uganda. However, local clearing and forwarding agents as well as traders are skeptical about the deal and want the process delayed until Rwandan businesses are supported to become more competitive.

“There are issues we still have to examine critically before the policy is implemented. For example, who will collect revenue and how will it be collected? How will Rwanda share the revenue? Will we have a common legal framework? Will we share Kenya’s or Tanzania’s infrastructure?

Fred Seka, the Association of Freight Forwarders and Clearing Agents of Rwanda president, noted that the move could affect them negatively if it is not studied carefully. “We have already raised the matter with the Minister of Trade. Besides hurting small firms, the country will lose jobs when companies relocate to Mombasa or Dar es Salaam. That is a big concern for us,” Seka said.

He noted that some of the partner states have many trade laws that might affect their operations. “It would be better if a locally-licensed company is not subjected to any other conditions once it relocates to Mombasa,” Seka noted.

Mark Priestley, the TradeMark East Africa country director, said the research firm and other players were currently conducting studies on how the single customs territory can operate without harming any player. “The intention is not only to ensure that we get rid of barriers which have been hampering trade, but also reduce the cost of doing business within the region,” he said. He added, however, that it was too early for traders to be scared of the consequences of operating under the single customs territory.

Last year the Permanent Secretary in the EAC Ministry, stated that the model which will involve shifting customs operations from Rwanda to the ports of Mombasa, and Dar es Salaam, will lead to unemployment, revenue loss and adverse multiplier effects. According to the model, certificates of origin of goods would be scrapped, which, according to Kayonga, would lead to the suffocation of local industries as well as making the region a dumping ground for unnecessary products.

Scovia Mutabingwa, the Aim Logistics East Africa managing director, said there was need for more consultations on the operation of the single customs territory “to understand how it will work”. “We need to know where our bargaining power is in the region?” Mutabingwa said. She noted that there was a need to first harmonise other trade policies if the single customs territory is to benefit all businesses in the region. She pointed out that she had applied for a clearing and forwarding licence in Tanzania over one and half years ago, but she was yet to get it. “How shall we work in such countries?” she wondered.

Another clearing firm, urged those negotiating the deal to ensure uniformity in tax policies across the region. “In Rwanda, there is 100 per cent tax compliancy, but we know this is not the same in other countries. How will we compete favourably if such issues are not addressed?” she wondered.

While one needs at least $300,000 to open a business in Kenya or they have to give a stake in their company to a resident, non-Kenyan companies also pay higher taxes at 35 per cent corporate tax compared to 30 per cent for locals.

Tanzania still has over 63 trade laws, and to operate a clearing firm there you need to be a Tanzanian, according to Musinguzi.

The East African Community (EAC) Customs Union Protocol came into effect in July 2009 after it was ratified by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in 2004 and later by Rwanda and Burundi in 2008. The creation of the EAC customs union was the first stage of the four step EAC regional integration process.

When fully implemented, the customs union will consolidate the East Africa Community into a single trading bloc with uniform policies, resulting in a larger economy. By working together to actualise the customs union, partner states will deepen EAC co-operation, allowing their citizens to reap the benefits of accelerated economic growth and social development.

However, the customs union is not yet fully implemented because there is a significant level of exclusions to the common external tariff and tariff-free movement of goods and services.

Africa-mombasa-mct-aerial

Port of Mombasa (Credit – Port Strategy)

Not for the first time a landlocked country in Africa is attempting to have a say in a remote port operation which functions as a major gateway for its import and export trade. This time it is Uganda proposing that it has a say in the management of Kenya’s major port, the port of Mombasa. In the recent past it was Ethiopia attempting to secure a dedicated terminal in Djibouti.

The Ugandan initiative surfaced at a recent ‘Validation Workshop on Uganda’s Position on the Single Customs Territory for the East African Community. The Permanent Secretary Ministry of EAC Affairs, Edith Mwanje said that Uganda should have a say in the management of gateway ports because of “the many delays that negatively impacted trade”. Ugandan cargo accounts for the largest body of traffic handled by the port of Mombasa for the landlocked countries surrounding Kenya.

It is unlikely, of course, that any country will give up even partial control of a national asset to another country. It is akin to relinquishing sovereignty in the minds of countries owning port assets and being asked to participate in some form of power sharing. Djibouti fought hard to prevent Ethiopian Shipping Lines gaining control of dedicated terminal assets in the old port of Djibouti and won this battle. It is very unlikely that Kenya will even consider the idea of a foreign power participating in the management of its number one port.

It may, however, be a wise course of action for countries such as Djibouti and Kenya to consider establishing some sort of regular stakeholder dialogue. This is the path to a long and sustainable relationship as opposed to a short opportunistic one.

It is known, for example, that in the past Ethiopia has been frustrated by the high price of gateway container and general cargo operations in Djibouti and this has led to tensions. Since these days, however, Djibouti has put considerable effort into having a sensible dialogue with Ethiopia and this has matured into new projects such as the signing of an agreement with Ethiopia and Djibouti to build an oil pipeline that will reduce South Sudan’s dependence on crude shipments via neighbouring Sudan, and plans for a $2.6bn liquefied natural gas terminal in Djibouti, including a liquefaction plant and a pipeline, that will enable the export of 10m cubic meters of gas from Ethiopia to China annually from 2016.

Source and Picture credit: Portstrategy.com

COMESAUganda has become the 15th member of the Free Trade Area (“FTA”) established by COMESA. Under the membership, the tariff on Ugandan goods will be reduced to 0 percent when exported to other signees, compared to the two percent levy on goods to and from non-member states.

The COMESA FTA began in 2000, and its other member states are Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Sudan, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Uganda was a founding member of COMESA in 1994 but until now was excluded from the FTA. As the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan are Uganda’s biggest trading partners, there is speculation that they will be the next two states to be granted membership.

Sub-Saharan Africa, which includes many of the FTA’s member states, has one of the strongest growth rates in the world, and its regional growth is expected to exceed five percent this year. The opportunity for infrastructural development will continue to grow in line with this, creating a wealth of investment opportunities for banks and lenders. Analysts have identified a particular need for infrastructure in energy and oil and gas-related sectors, as well as transport. Source: Lexology.com

ura-logo-fireworks-advertisingA goods-laden vehicle arrives at a Uganda border where a declaration is made for transit to another country. But after clearance by customs officials, it disappears before exiting and the goods are sold on the local market. This causes undue competition as such goods are often low priced. And if that status quo does not change, local industries are affected gradually. Although such practices have occurred in the past, the future is bright owing to the introduction of a system that can track the movement of goods and give real-time updates.

Costing $5.2m, the Electronic Cargo Tracking System (ECTS) has been introduced by URA to improve efficiency and reduce the cost of doing business. The government, World Bank and Trade Mark East Africa, a trade facilitation organization, have supported the project, which is expected to be ready for testing by the end of August, and be fully implemented by end of November. URA Commissioner General Allen Kagina and BSMART Technology boss Stephen Teang this week signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the plan. This was at the URA head office in Nakawa, Kampala.

Kagina, who referred to it as a “landmark initiative”, praised the fact that customs officers would have regular updates regarding merchandise. She also hailed the fact that the provider would train staff, giving them much-needed skills.

The system will facilitate trade through timely execution and cancellation of customs bond guarantees for cargo in transit, making the transit process faster, more efficient and secure. Furthermore, this will enhance trade facilitation and business competitiveness countrywide.

How it works – ECTS relies on a control centre and automatic devices. The devices are attached onto a truck and constantly give feedback to the team at the control centre. Among others, the feedback includes include location of a vehicle, speed and status of the container (truck tampered with or not). If the device gives information that is contrary to that declared earlier, for example, goods being dumped here instead of being exported, customs officials make a decision accordingly. The system will be pioneered on high-risk goods like sugar, wines and spirits, textiles, explosives, and cigarettes. Thereafter, it will be rolled out to other types of merchandise.

Advantages – The system enables parties like customs officials and transporters to receive fulltime and real-time updates. URA has over the years introduced initiatives such as One-Stop Border processes and 24-hour operations at the major entry/exit points but the business community has sometimes not realized the benefits due to the numerous unwarranted stopovers. ECTS makes this a thing of the past. Source: The Observer (Kampala)

incoterms2The lack of knowledge to interpret international terms of trade (INCOTERMS) is to blame for the high cost of doing businesses among importers and exporters, the secretary general of the Uganda Shippers Council. Many importers do not understand international terms of trade such as Cost and Freight, Free on Board and Cost Insurance and Freight (CIF), yet in Uganda, taxation is done based on CIF.

“This means that a Ugandan trader who is importing or exporting goods has to pay freight costs in the East African region, whose headquarters are based at Mombasa, in addition to cost of goods, insurance and freight charges for the goods,” explained Kankunda, Secretary General of the local shipper’s council..

“If a Ugandan trader is able to understand these terms, then they will be in position to secure a local shipping line and pay a slightly lower cost compared to paying from the country where the goods are coming from.”

Kankunda was speaking at a three-day workshop on INCOTERMS for importers and exporters from the East Africa region. The training was aimed educating international traders best practices in handling INCOTERMs and other international freight transactions. It is expected to contribute to reducing the cost of cargo handling and shipment along East African corridors by enabling importers and exporters to efficiently apply proper commercial terms and practices.

Kankunda said the application of inappropriate commercial terms, insurance policies and inefficient processing of various trade transactions when importing or exporting goods are some of the causes of the high cost of doing business in the region. It is estimated that transport costs make up 30% to 40% of CIF value of imported goods in East Africa, compared to about 5% to 10% in other regions. Source: AllAfrica.com

Uganda, Malaba border crossing

Uganda, Malaba border crossing

The New Vision (Uganda) reports on a draft law which will punish countries that fail to implement agreed upon mechanisms to eliminate trade barriers has been submitted at the regional Parliament.

Jose Maciel, the TradeMark East Africa director of trade facilitation, noted that while most of the non-tariff barriers (NTBs), including road blocks and corruption have slightly declined, the proposed law in the East African Legislative Assembly, if enacted, would create the possibility of sanctions against stubborn states that do not enforce the check points. “It is important to give teeth to the system. We need to make it possible to impose sanctions for countries that do not eliminate NTBs,” said Maciel.

He was speaking at a Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) organised meeting with EAC media in Mombasa. TradeMark is a trade facilitating agency operating in the five states of East Africa. Maciel said non-tariff barriers like road blocks, which are easy to eradicate, are some of the biggest impediments to East Africa’s competitiveness.

States are not the only defaulting party to agreed upon positions on eliminating NTBs. P.J. Shah, a Mombasa entrepreneur, for instance notes that while Mombasa began 24-hour operations about three years ago, other agencies like banks and shipping lines are not operating 24 hours. The poor infrastructure such as rail and water systems, whose potential is yet to be optimised, also increase trade costs. Other NTBs include weighbridges and corrupt state enforcement agencies.

Regional trade experts and facilitation agencies such as Trade Mark East Africa agree that NTBs are known, and numerous researches have been done about them and their impact on trade. Although some efforts have been made to eradicate or reduce the salient ones such as road blocks, overall NTBs remain a major trade impediment.

Two thirds of goods are shipped in containers. TradeMark estimates that 20% of annual shipments face NTBs. TradeMark is also targeting to work with regional governments to harmonise 20 standards in a year, amongst the other efforts at making EAC more competitive.

During the Mombasa meeting, it was agreed that because sometimes there seems to be no communication between the different government agencies such as the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and KPA, hinterland states suffer.

There should be a single authority that oversees them all and ensures enforcement. There are about 24 road blocks between Mombasa and Uganda’s border and another 21 in Uganda, four in Burundi and two in Rwanda. There are also 12 weighbridges in Kenya, five in Uganda and two in Rwanda.

“A well run efficient port can help shape economic growth and performance of the economy,” said Antony Hughes, a TradeMark official.

Mombasa handles about 20 million tonnes of cargo, 85% destined for Uganda and other hinterland states. Transit states always suffer the biggest brunt of NTBs and poor flow of information regarding imminent disruptions at the border. This was witnessed during the recent cash bond imposed by KRA that caught Uganda traders unaware, leading to massive clog ups of cargo and huge loss of value.

Comment: It appears that regional bodies such as the EAC are to get extraordinary powers to enforce rules over sovereign states. Would be interesting to learn whether these member states voted for such action, or if it is rather the ideal and persuasion of ‘foreign’ interests.

Authorised Economic Operators (AEO), a scheme focusing on compliant companies to facilitate trade starts before the year ends. The Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) Public and Corporate Affairs Assistant Commissioner Sarah Banage recently disclosed that AEO is meant to enhance compliance “by removing barriers for the most complaint taxpayer”.

“Under the scheme, the benefit of being complaint will be red-carpet treatment offered by URA,” she stated, adding, “we want to demonstrate that there are rewards for being compliant.” Banage cited electronic submission of declaration without supporting documents, pre-arrival clearance of cargo, and self-management of bonded warehouses as some of the benefits. Others are: priority treatment when cargo is selected for control, choosing the place for examination, automatic renewal of licences and withholding tax exemption status.

Because the relationship between URA and its clients is “symbiotic”, it is expected that there will be an increase in taxes, Banage argued. Potential beneficiaries of AEO are: agents, importers, exporters, shippers, internal container depot operators, and others involved in international shipment of goods, among others.

To be eligible, Banage said, one should be involved in international trade, have a good compliance history, be financially sound, install and use customs automated systems like e-tax and should implement the AEO compliance programme. To be authorized, companies/organizations will apply to the commissioner, after which a preliminary consultation is done.

“We will then determine who should formally apply. Officials will adjudicate submitted documents before a site is inspected to ensure compliance with guidelines,” she said. Subsequently, a one-year certificate will be issued.

“An AEO is an individual, a business entity or a government department that is involved in international trade and is duly authorized by the Commissioner of Customs of Uganda Revenue Authority.”

Banage said that implementing AEO does not only have short-term results but also resultant long-term benefits to the business community. These include reduction of the cost of doing business and increased turnover over time, among others. In the middle of April, customs officials held a breakfast meeting at Serena hotel, Kampala where Chief Executive Officers of major organizations were sensitized about the plan.

Later, customs officials interacted with personnel of the Auditor General, Export Promotion Board, the Trade, Industry and Cooperatives ministry, the Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries ministry and Uganda National Bureau of Standards. Also at Serena, it was meant to “share with them the programme in order to capture their ideas,” according to Banage.

Weeks ago, URA asked companies to express interest in joining the scheme. Over 20 organizations applied and are currently involved in talks expected to culminate in attaining AEO status. “Admission to the scheme will depend on how the companies implement the compliance programme. By December, some companies should be authorized,” Banage added. Among others, those expected to benefit from the first phase are importers, clearing agents and transporters.

Regarding the East African Community (EAC), customs administrators have adopted an AEO policy framework. It was adopted in 2010 as a basis for implementing trade facilitation initiatives that drive economic development for the EAC. Under AEO’s mutual recognition arrangement, a government formally recognizes the AEO programme of another country, thereby granting benefits to the AEOs of that country. Under a regional project, companies in the five countries receive benefits related to the scheme. Among the benefits is priority treatment at customs points. Source: The Observer (Kampala) 

Ugandan importers say they intend avoiding using the Port of Mombasa in Kenya in favour of Tanzania’ Dar es Salaam in future, because of unresolved issues with the Kenyan taxman.

Some 600 containers destined for Uganda are being held at the Kenyan port following the introduction of a cash bond tax. The chairman of the Kampala Traders Association announced last week that the association had resolved to suspend using Mombasa in the interim, reports New Vision (Kampala).

In addition, importers say they will take legal action against the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) which has issued a directive instructing importers to lodge either a cash bond equivalent to the value of the imported goods or a bank guarantee to the same value. This must be deposited before the goods being imported can be cleared.

The directive has affected not only the 600 containers waiting at the port but imports of motor vehicles and sugar.

Uganda’s trade minister, Amelia Kyambadde said she had been informed by the Uganda business community that the KRA, under notice CUS/L&A/LEG/1 had made a unilateral decision on a requirement for a cash bond or bank guarantee on transit sugar and motor vehicles above 2000cc.

Ugandan authorities say the action by the KRA directive constitutes another non-tariff barrier imposed by Kenyan authorities on its transit cargo and contravenes East African Community Customs Union protocol and decisions reached by the Council of Ministers in March 2012 on removal of non-trade barriers in the community.

“If Kenya needs an instrument to regulate regional trade in sugar and other products, a cash bond is not the instrument to apply,” said Kyambadde. Sources: Ports.co.za / New Vision (Uganda).