Interview: Richard Sezibera 

To what extent are non-tariff barriers (NTBs) a concern within the EAC?

 RICHARD SEZIBERA: When the EAC Customs union was established, member states pledged to immediately remove NTBs and not to impose any new ones. To spearhead the identification and removal of these barriers, in 2006 the EAC, together with the East African Business Council, established national monitoring committees, as well as the EAC Regional Forum on NTBs. The community now publishes quarterly reports on the status of eliminating NTBs in the region, and it established an inventory of all NTBs affecting intra-EAC trade, with agreed-upon timelines for their abolishment. As of March 2015, 83 NTBs had been eliminated, eight remained unresolved and four were new. In addition, the East African Legislative Assembly passed the Elimination of NTBs Act, which provides a legal mechanism for the government to pursue these efforts.

What lessons are there to be learned from the economic partnership agreement (EPA) negotiations with the EU?

SEZIBERA: One major limitation that EAC countries had in the EPA negotiations was limited sectoral studies and impact assessments to inform their negotiating positions. Hence a major lesson is that capacity building should always involve conducting the relevant sectoral studies and surveys aimed at helping member states understand the sectors and issues under negotiation.

There is also a need to continuously build the capacity of trade negotiators, with targeted training to provide them with the right tools for effective engagement during negotiations. Finally, there need to be concerted efforts to sensitise and inform the public on the issues at hand, as the success and benefits for stakeholders will hinge on their ability to translate the gains made in negotiations into economically tangible and exploitable opportunities.

How are talks progressing for the Tripartite Free Trade Agreement (TFTA) with the EAC, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, and the Southern African Development Community?

SEZIBERA: Negotiations for the TFTA adopted a development approach to integrating the economies of the 26 member or partner states of the three regional economic communities (RECs). There were of course challenges during the negotiation process. Among them was the fear by some countries of losses in trade revenues and employment due to economic adjustments, limits to technical and human resource capacity with certain member states, and the slow exchange of tariff liberalisation offers.

That said, the benefits will be many, including an enlarged market with a population of 600m and a combined GDP of more than $1trn. Trade liberalisation will be achieved much faster among the RECs, and the arrangement will enable us to facilitate industrial cooperation and value chains across priority manufacturing sectors, including agro-processing, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and minerals. The agreement should also allow us to promote infrastructure development and linkages across the three RECs to reduce the cost of doing business and facilitate increased cross-border investments.

The TFTA was signed on 10 June 2015 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. Currently, 16 member or partner states have signed the agreement. It will come into force after ratification by 14 of the 26 member or partner states. In the intervening period, each of the countries is required to undertake sensitization and capacity-building activities to prepare stakeholders for the expected implementation of the agreement. When signing the agreement, the summit of the tripartite heads of state and government also launched phase II negotiations. These negotiations cover trade in services, competition policy, intellectual property rights, trade related investments and development.