By JEFF OTIENO
The East African Community has made the most progress on integration and is the most ambitious of all regional economic communities (RECs) in Africa.
According to the latest report on regional integration by the African Development Bank, the EAC is top on the list of RECs in Africa.
“The EAC has developed a fully functional free trade area, first by implementing a Customs Union more comprehensively since July 2009, when both Rwanda and Burundi joined,” says the AfDB report.
Apart from establishing a Common Market in July 2010, AfDB says, the trade bloc’s most recent achievement on the journey towards economic union was the adoption of a protocol in 2013 outlining its plan to launch a monetary union in 10 years, a move that has not been matched by other RECs.
The study assessed eight RECs: EAC, the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), the Community of Sahara-Sahel States (CEN-SAD), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Unlike EAC, the other blocs are in the process of establishing either a free trade area or Customs Union. Of the eight, it is only EAC that has commenced establishing a common market.
Regional integration, viewed as an important factor in Africa’s economic growth and development, is a favourite agenda of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca).
Like AfDB, Uneca acknowledges that EAC has made progress on intra-regional trade, though there is still room for improvement.
According to Uneca, between 2000 and 2012, EAC member states traded more with Africa, compared with countries belonging to other trading blocs, boasting average intra-regional export as a percentage by destination, of 19.5 per cent.
SADC came second with an intra-regional export average of 10.9 per cent, followed by Igad at 9.2 per cent and Ecowas, coming fourth with 8.7 per cent.
To monitor progress made, early this year, the EAC secretariat launched The East African Common Market Score Card 2014: Tracking EAC Compliance in the Movement of Capital, Services and Goods, which revealed that Tanzania and Burundi retained the highest number of restrictions to cross-border trade.
The scorecard reviews laws and regulations to gauge the level of conformity by each partner state to the Common Market Protocol that came into force in July 2010. It is one of the evaluation mechanisms that made the EAC stand out from the rest.
On overlapping membership, which has been criticised as a challenge to regional integration, AfDB sees no major problem with African states belonging to more than one REC.
In fact, most African countries belong to more than one regional integration organisation, with only Algeria, Cape Verde and Mozambique being party to just one agreement.
“By contrast, 14 countries have signed up to two regional economic communities, 19 to three, and 16 to four. Côte d’Ivoire is a member of five regional organisations.”