Kenya and Tanzania are pushing to resolve their long-standing trade disputes, which have slowed down the flow of goods across common borders.
Trade officials from the two countries held bilateral meetings in Arusha, in April, to try and resolve the many contentious trade issues, including rules of origin for some products and persistent suspicion over the quality of products traded across the borders.
People familiar with the negotiations told The EastAfrican that the first bilateral meeting was held in September 2017 and the next meeting is scheduled for Mombasa in early July.
So far the trade officials have held four bilateral meetings since 2017.
The meetings follow a directive by the regional Heads of State in March requiring ministers of trade and EAC affairs from Kenya and Tanzania to address and resolve non-tariff barriers affecting trade between the two countries.
“Our trade teams have been meeting because we need to resolve these issues amicably,” said Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for EAC Affairs Adan Mohamed.
Kenya’s Principal Secretary in the Department of Trade Chris Kiptoo said the two countries have managed to resolve 19 out of 37 NTBs while the ministers of trade have made recommendations on how to resolve the remaining 18 NTBs.
Last year, Tanzania imposed a 25 per cent import duty on Kenyan confectionery, including juice, ice cream, chocolate, sweets and chewing gums, claiming Kenya had used zero-rated industrial sugar imports to produce them.
Kenya banned Tanzanian tour vans from accessing the Maasai Mara National Reserve, arguing that Tanzania had banned Kenyan operators from accessing the Serengeti National Park.
Tanzania escalated the trade spat in February when it imposed fresh quality verification standards for Kenyan products.
Dar said it was merely reciprocating Kenya’s decision to impose similar conditions on goods originating from Tanzania in breach of a mutual agreement on the standards of goods traded within the region.
Spirits and tiles are among Tanzanian products that are subjected to quality verification before entering Kenya even if they bear a Tanzania Bureau of Standards quality mark.
Dar retaliated by detaining Kenyan products on its borders for more than seven days pending quality verification.
The Kenya Association of Manufacturers said the double testing of manufactured goods adversely affected the country’s metal and automotive sectors.
The list of issues under discussion includes Tanzania’s continued restriction of free movement of labour across its borders despite it ratifying the common market protocol.
Dar also remains opposed to issuance of work permits to Kenyan nationals to work in its territory.
Tanzania’s deputy director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Co-operation Damas Haule said senior trade officials from the two countries met at a forum organised by the East African Business Council (EABC) to deal with the outstanding issues and remove the existing trade barriers.
During the meeting, EABC reportedly signed an agreement with Trade Mark East Africa (TMEA) aimed at removing trade hurdles facing business people within the region.
EABC’s managing director Peter Mathuki said the council would collaborate with EAC member states to formulate a workable plan on how to remove the trade barriers.
Intra-EAC trade remains low at a paltry 20 per cent compared to trade within other regional economic blocs such as the South African Development Community, which stands at 58 per cent and the European Union at a high of 68 per cent.
The EAC Common Market Protocol requires member states to open up their borders to facilitate free movement of goods, labour, services as well as capital.
Despite frequent violation of the protocol by member states there have been no consequences.
Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania are currently embroiled in several trade disputes and experts warn that unless these conflicts are resolved regional integration will keep stalling.