THE high level trade integration conference has kicked off in Nairobi with business to business and business to government sessions as well as exhibition.
Secretary in the Kenya's Ministry of East African Cooperation (EAC) and Regional Development, Dr Margaret Mwakima disclosed that the conference is being attended by over 300 key players from the East African region, international and regional economic communities, exhibitors, stakeholders and government officials.
The EAC Director General, Customs and Trade, Mr Kenneth Bagamuhunda said the objective of organizing the high level trade conference was to offer an opportunity to assess the progress, discuss challenges and propose a way forward for the full-fledged Customs Union.
"It also provides a platform to examine the adequacy of the legal, institutional and policy framework, the resource and technological capacity as well as collaboration with the private sector in defining the future of the Customs Union as a pivot integration of EAC," said Mr Bagamuhunda.
The DG said that the Trade Conference comes at a time when the EAC partner states have enhanced trade and access to markets beyond the EAC region.
The EAC has entered into multilateral trade negotiations as a bloc particularly on the nascent African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), COMESA, SADC and the US.
Mr Bagamuhunda said that the Community was at an advanced stage in establishing a tripartite free trade area with COMESA and SADC.
"Besides, the EAC has also signed a trade and investment framework agreement with the USA," he said.
Speaking at the same occasion, the Executive Director of the East African Business Council (EABC), Mr Peter Mathuki said the Trade Conference that started yesterday for three days is expected to come up with recommendations on policy and strategic direction; strengthen partnerships with key stakeholders especially the private sector on the implementation of the EAC Customs Union; document lessons learnt after 20 years of the integration process, and; practical interventions to address Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs).
Mr Mathuki urged partner states to urgently come up with common positions by removing the NTB's in order to raise the intra-trade among the member state from 12 percent as currently reported to at least 40 percent.
"It is a matter of great concern that inter-regional trade among EAC member states stands at 12 percent whereas trade with other nations is 90 percent," said Mr Mathuki.
The 2019 Trade Conference is designed to offer an opportunity to assess the progress, discuss challenges and propose way forward for the full-fledged Customs Union.
It also provides a platform to examine the adequacy of the legal, institutional and policy framework, the resource and technological capacity as well as collaboration with the private sector in defining the future of the Customs Union as a pivot integration of EAC.
Other participants are drawn from corporate entities such as telecommunications companies, insurance companies and banks, importers and exporters, national and international transport companies, shipping lines and clearing agents.
Other stakeholders attending the conference are from international organisations including the World Customs Organisation, World Trade Organisation, the World Bank, African Development Bank (AfDB), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), International Trade Centre (ITC), UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), African Union Commission (AUC) and the International Monetary Fund.