The complete elimination of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) in the EAC has taken a big step forward with the enactment of the EAC Elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers Bill, 2015 by the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) during its ongoing session in Bujumbura. The bill sailed through the third reading after intense debate by legislators on Tuesday.
Debate on the bill started Monday evening but was adjourned following a motion by the chairman of the Council of Ministers, Dr Abdullah Saadalla Abdullah, to allow for further consultations.
Prior to that, several Members had risen and made pertinent submissions in support of the bill.
Peter Mathuki called for an end to the encumbrances saying NTBs are responsible for slowing progress of integration. Martin Ngoga for his part said it was necessary for safeguards to be included in the bill. He cited clause 14 on the exchange of information related to NTBs by the national focal points as one that needs regulation in terms of the specific reporting timeframe.
Abdullah Mwinyi on the other hand pointed out it is time to institute effective sanctions for non-performance to eradicate NTBs, which he stated often recurred.
When the House resumed, the bill sailed through the second reading prompting the House to reconstitute itself into the Bill Committee Stage to scrutinize it clause by clause. At this stage, various amendments were introduced by Members.
The object of the bill, which is moved by the Council of Ministers, is to provide a legal mechanism for the elimination of identified non-tariff barriers in partner states.
The bill, according to the Council, seeks to give effect to Article 13 of the Protocol on the Establishment of the EAC Customs Union in which partner states agreed to remove with immediate effect all existing NTBs to importation into their territories of goods originating within the EAC. At the same time, no new NTBs should be introduced.
The Council Bill also sought to establish a mechanism for identifying and monitoring the removal of NTBs within the Partner States.
The debate was preceded by adoption of the report of the Committee on Communication, Trade and Investment which considered the bill last week. The Committee led by Mukasa Mbidde met with the Council of Ministers and experts from the Customs and Trade Directorate at the EAC Secretariat and proposed amendments to the effect that respective ministries of the EAC in each partner state be mandated to be national focal points for matters related to NTBs.
The Committee further proposed an amendment to clause 12 (on failures of removal of NTBs) to provide for reference at the East African Court of Justice by any person aggrieved by a directive, decision or recommendation of the EAC Council of Ministers or the EAC Committee on Trade remedies.
The EAC prepares a quarterly report on the status of the elimination of NTBs. This boosts ongoing efforts by the National Monitoring Committees and the EAC Regional Forum on NTBs to redress NTBs affecting intra-EAC Trade.