Harmonization of standards in the East African community: challenges and opportunities (2000-2012)
East African Community (EAC) is an economic integration involving Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. One of the objectives of EAC integration was to develop policies and programmes aimed at widening and deepening trade among the Partner States. Significant progress has been made in the EAC economic integration process. For example, the East African Community Customs Union was established in 2005 that abolished intra-community tariffs and adopted a Common External Tariff (CET); in addition, the East African Community Common Market (EACCM) was established in 2010 aimed at free movements of goods in the EAC, among others. However, Partner States have not yet realized the full trade and welfare benefits of a customs union and common market because of the presence of technical barriers to trade (TBT), in addition to other trade barriers. Trade between the Partner States is still being hindered by the existence of non-tariff barriers, which is of concern to the private sector in the EAC. The EAC has experienced a general increase in the intra-EAC trade over the years. The Intra-EAC trade total increased by about 8% to US$ 4.5 billion in 2010 compared to US$ 4.2 billion in 2009. The study revealed that the level of intra-EAC trade was still very low. Several scholars have put the impact of international harmonization of standards on international trade to the test their main concession is that international harmonization of standards has a positive effect on international trade. The WTO through the TBT Agreement advocate international harmonization of standard it however recognizes and respects states right to make regulations and standards applicable in the States territory. Though harmonization of standards is desired states have to consider other factors such as the protection of consumers and plant and animal health. By states exercising this right to make regulations in their territory certain regulations differ thereby inhibiting harmonization and creating technical barriers to trade. Acknowledging the role SQMT plays in facilitating trade the EAC adopted the EAC SQMT Act 2006 which aims to harmonize standards and technical regulations in the region. So far the EAC has managed to harmonize 1240 standards this is however very low compared to the fact that partner state maintain as many as 6000 national standards. Despite the strides made in harmonization the provisions of the SQMT Act are not fully implemented. Much still needs to be done to establish trust in inspection, testing and certification conducted by the other EAC countries to establish mutual recognition. The challenges identified in implementation include: reluctance by states to adopt of EAC standards and lack of financial and technical resources. The study explores the challenges and identifies the unnecessary trade barriers faced by exporters in the EAC intra-regional trade due to differences in technical regulations and standards amongst EAC Partner States. The study also identifies opportunities and avenues that can be adopted by partner states to fast track harmonization i.e. judicial intervention and approximation of respective national standards laws to the SQMT Act. This study has generated data that can assist to inform the private sector and other stakeholders to propose position(s) suggesting best actions to fast-track the harmonization of standards and the development of technical regulations framework with a view of promoting free movement of goods in the EAC. The study was constrained by number of factors including: lack of EAC up to date trade data and scanty information on informal trade. Therefore, the trade statistics given does not include informal trade. The paper is biased towards the original EAC countries; Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania for which data are readily available.