http://www.economist.com/world/middleeast-africa/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15179478 East Africa's common market It really may happen Dec 30th 2009 | KIGALI From The Economist print edition The regions leaders take another step towards building a common market FREE-TRADE fingers crossed, some time this summer goods should start being sold without tariffs across borders within the five countries of the East African Community (EAC). The new common market will take in 130m-plus people in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. The next step is monetary union, with political federation a far remoter prospect. The agreement signed last year at the EACs headquarters in the Tanzanian city of Arusha was a first step. Optimists say the EAC should join free-trade blocks in southern and western Africa before 2030. The EAC is working off a small base. Its combined GDP of $75 billion is a sixth of Belgiums. But scrapping tariffs should boost regional trade and improve competitiveness. The EAC should be better placed to trade with Congo, Ethiopia and Sudan. And if it can build its own wider manufacturing base, its goods may start to compete with cheap stuff from China. Kenya, which has the regions strongest manufacturers, retailers and banks, is sure to gain most. But for the EAC to succeed, others must win too. Rwanda and Burundi should benefit from cheaper and quicker transport of goods to and from the ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam. Uganda is well placed to expand its agriculture for export. Tanzania is less certain to gain. It wants to keep some taxes on goods from Kenya. And it is wary of the free movement of labour, fearing that, in many professions, pushier and better-educated Kenyans will come and snatch plum jobs. Faustin Mbundu, a Rwandan who chairs the East African Business Council, says the real benefits of the common market will accrue only with more and better roads, railways and power stations. Some say a new capital for the EAC must be built from scratch, perhaps on a shore of Lake Victoria, with a new international airport to match Nairobis. But simpler things will be needed a lot sooner. For instance, border crossings will have to be kept open at night. Mr Mbundu wants to end the scourge of informal police checkpoints. Above all, the governments will have to avoid policy reversals that pander to their own industries, a tendency that has hitherto stood in the way of a proper common market.