Everything you wanted to know about the 131m-strong Common Market Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania currencies. With the coming into force of the Customs Union on New Years Day and last years signing of the EAC Common Market Protocol, which enters into force in July, East African integration has raced ahead of most other regional integration efforts on the continent. By PATRICK GATHARA THE EAST AFRICAN Posted Sunday, January 10 2010 at 13:04 In the Preamble to the EAC treaty establishing the East African Community, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi express their determination to strengthen their economic, social, cultural, political, technological and other ties for their fast balanced and sustainable development by the establishment of an East African Community, with an East African Customs Union and a Common Market as transitional stages to and integral parts thereof, subsequently a Monetary Union and ultimately a Political Federation. Related Stories Trade partners who could ruffle EAC nest No more work permits, inequity for EAC citizens Signing of EA Common Market the highlight of 10 years of integration EA Court to try rights-abuse cases EAs Political Federation needs the support of other pillars, says Nalo The fast balanced and sustainable development part explains why countries join such regional integration arrangements. In a rapidly globalising world, integration offers gains from new trade opportunities, larger markets and increased competition. It can also raise returns on investments, facilitate larger investments, and induce industries to relocate while at the same time committing governments to reforms, increasing bargaining power, enhancing co-operation, and improving common security. These benefits, though, are not automatic and there is a danger that integration may come to be viewed as an end in itself, rather than as a means to improving the welfare of the combined populations. With the coming into force of the Customs Union on New Years Day and last years signing of the EAC Common Market Protocol, which enters into force in July, East African integration has raced ahead of most other regional integration efforts on the continent. But the road ahead is still fraught with difficulties. These include the need to ensure partner nations have an equal share and benefit from the process, establishment of a common convergence criteria in the lead up to the envisaged Monetary Union and resolution of the issues posed by differing access to foreign markets and overlapping memberships in other regional economic groupings. For example, while Kenya is regarded as a developing country, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda are categorised as least developed countries and are covered by the EUs Everything But Arms initiative, under which all products from LDCs except arms and ammunitions have preferential access to the EU market. Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) while Tanzania is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Burundi and Rwanda are at the same time members of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). Further, although the EAC has introduced a common passport valid within the Community, free cross-border movement of people and goods remains more of a goal than a reality. According to the East Africa Business Climate Index 2008 survey conducted by the East African Business Council, some 172,236 days are lost each year as a result of delays at weighbridges, roadblocks and Customs offices, with the equivalent of $9.8 million paid out in bribes along the way. While the elimination of Customs barriers will help, it is instructive to note that the lions share of delays and bribe solicitation actually occurs at the weighbridges and roadblocks. In this regard, Kenyas decision last year to remove two-thirds of the roadblocks along the Northern Corridor, which is the main artery linking landlocked Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, to the sea port of Mombasa, is to be welcomed. Other challenges ahead include integration of public programmes for combating crime, HIV/Aids, and technological backwardness, and harnessing physical resources that have remained largely national in outlook. There is also need to give more impetus to private sector and civil society involvement in policymaking and pushing governments to ratify and implement protocols, stabilise macroeconomic conditions, maintain an efficient and reliable bureaucracy and ensure the rule of law.