The Minister for Finance and Economic Affairs, Ms Saada Mkuya Salum, said the decision to raise Common External Tariff (CET) from the current 25 per cent to 35 per cent was initialed by finance ministers of the EAC member states in Nairobi, Kenya, recently.
She said Uganda, however, opted out because it has another model to protect their farmers. We support the decision to raise the import duty on rice imports because it is only proper to protect our farmers and where possible prioritize their interests. Reports of smuggling of rice into the region are disturbing because it is our farmers who suffer most.
It has been established that the low import duty on rice has increased smuggling of the product in the region. Unscrupulous traders import rice from Pakistan and repackage it in bags with local producer labels before they are smuggled into Tanzania and Uganda where it is sold cheaply.
The main victims of this state of affairs are the local rice farmers as the market is flooded with cheap smuggled rice. It is heartening to know the position of the EAC states on this matter because it tells that they have the best interests of their people at heart.
We also see the decision to hike the import duty under the EAC umbrella as a move in the right direction. Protection of local farmers cannot be over emphasized and so is creating conducive environment for large scale investments in the agricultural sec - tor.
We must intensify efforts to plug off leaks for smuggling to protect the rice farmers who are currently facing challenges of selling their large stocks of yields following a bumper harvest last year. A level playing field in the market must always be maintained for the sake of our farmers.