Rwanda red flag over faltering EAC integration Though the East African Community secretariat maintains the integration process is on course, concerns are growing over delays and foot-dragging by some member states in the implementation of the agreement. Rwanda has already raised the red flag over delays by EAC partner states in implementing the provisions of regional protocols. The country is concerned by the delays in harmonising national laws and legislations in conformity with the EAC Common Market protocol, which has made implementation of the protocol difficult, and by the absence of reciprocity in the implementation process. "The biggest challenge is that we are currently at different levels of implementation and not all partner states are implementing the provisions as required. Our concern is for the partner states to implement what we have agreed on at the regional level," says Rwandan Minister for East African Affairs Monique Mukarulinza. While the East African Community Customs Union was launched in 2005 in the three original partner states, the new members, Rwanda and Burundi, started implementing the Customs Union on July 1, 2009 after being admitted to the community in 2007. Ms Mukarulinza says while the country has on its part fast tracked and accelerated the process of integration by amending its national laws as required, other states have been slow to act. Apart from implementing the Customs Union and adopting the EAC budget calendar, Rwanda is amending its national laws to facilitate the regional integration agenda. Kenya's EAC Director of Economic Affairs, Richard Sindiga, agrees that challenges remain in the implementation process, citing the lack of harmonisation of fiscal policy as one of the reasons for the dissolution of the former EAC in 1977. Mark Priestley, TradeMark East Africa country director for Rwanda, said despite the gains made by "landlocked" countries like Burundi and Rwanda from regional integration, the benefits were limited by the existence of non-tariff barriers (NTBs), which are still on the rise. The situation is worsened by the poor state of infrastructure in the region. "A full 40 per cent of costs of imported retail goods are related to transport costs," said Mr Priestley. The landlocked countries are hardest hit by NTBs, a situation worsened by bad roads, delays at border crossings and lack of harmonised import and export procedures, all undermining the free movement of goods and people as provided for in the Common Market protocol. Costs Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi incur the greatest costs due to their distance from the main ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam. "No tangible progress has been made in terms of removing NTBs along both the Northern and Central Corridors, which has kept Rwanda's transport costs extremely high," said Ms Mukarulinza. Rwanda and Kenya are seen to be ahead of the pack in the implementation of some of the aspects of the agreement. To bypass the hurdle over implementation of laws on movement of labour, Rwanda and Kenya signed a bilateral agreement to allow their citizens to move freely and seek employment in the two countries. The landlocked country also amended its immigration laws to allow EAC citizens work and stay in the country. "We fully opened our borders to members of the Community, giving them six months of stay, but when Rwandan citizens travel to some partner states they were given only three months," Ms Mukarulinza told The East African, referring to the treatment of its citizens by Tanzania. Some member countries have pointed fingers at Tanzania for what they refer to as its "stubbornness"in implementing rules touching on immigration and property ownership. "Tanzania still feels that if it completely relaxes its immigration rules, foreigners from other member states will flood the country and take away citizens' jobs and property," said an East Africa Legislative Assembly MP, who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. Both Rwanda and Kenya are of the view that while they are trying hard to embrace all residents from member countries, their citizens face diascrimination in some partner states. Source: East African Newspaper.