SEATINI and Other Stakeholders Assess the Impact of Regional Integration on Inclusive Development in the EAC
In many parts of the world, countries have pursued regional integration as a useful strategy to promote economic growth, reduce poverty and income inequality. This year marks 21 years since the East African Community (EAC) was re-established in 2000 following its earlier collapse in 1977.
SEATINI Uganda in partnership with Diakonia and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung East Africa Office organized a strategic meeting to understand the role of EALA in the regional integration process in relation to trade, tax and investment related issues and to develop a roadmap on how trade, tax and investment proposals can be adopted across the region.
The meeting brought together representatives of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), National Members of Parliament from relevant Committees and Members of Parliament from the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) – Uganda Chapter.
In her welcome remarks, Jane Nalunga, the Executive Director at SEATINI Uganda reiterated that the COVID 19 pandemic has given us a chance to rethink our economy and more importantly the development ideology governing our economy. She added that globally there is a discussion on a possible transition post COVID-19 focusing on building back better and greener.
Jane Nalunga stressed that the issue of Domestic Resource Mobilization is critical especially in the post COVID 19 economic recovery. She also observed that Uganda is borrowing to service the debt and advised that government needs to urgently devise ways of getting out of the debt trap.
She observed that although Official Development Assistance (ODA) has not reduced, the conditionalities around ODA are abit hard for low-income countries like Uganda. She added that Uganda has little control over ODA and aid in general thus the need to rethink how to mobilize resources in these hard times to finance various development programs.
Ambassador Nathan Irumba, a retired diplomat and former Chief Executive Director of SEATINI Regional Office called on EALA members to look beyond the national interests but rather focus on what brings EAC Partner States together and work towards building an inclusive East African Community.
Leo Kizito Ojara, the Commissioner, Economic Affairs at the Ministry of East African Community Affairs (MEACA) noted that the prevalence of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) has been frustrating trade within the East African Community and continues to be a major concern to all Partner States.
He also observed that Uganda is currently grappling with trading with the rest of the world because of not being able to adequately meet requisite standards of exportation to other countries.
‘‘The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has applied to become a member of the EAC. This is a big opportunity for EAC to benefit from an additional 89.5 million people in terms of expanding the Community’s trade potential,’’ Ojara said.
Hon. Odongo George Stephen, Member of EALA stressed the need to have a deeper conversation around extractives industry and explore how to close the loopholes that facilitate Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs). We need a strict law that can safeguard us from IFFs.
James Malinzi from Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) noted that EAC Partner States put in place the Single Customs Territory which is aimed at reducing some of the hurdles and thus solved the issue of multiple declaration in different countries and eased compliance.
Africa Kiiza, a Trade Policy Analyst at SEATINI Uganda noted that the calls for reforms in the EAC Treaty have gained momentum. He added that there are specific reforms that need to be made to address Dispute Settlement Mechanism; NTBs resolution (dedicated body for addressing NTBs and trade disputes, beyond EACJ).
Regina Navuga, a Tax Expert at SEATINI Uganda noted that all countries in the EAC region have incentives that amount to tax exemptions for investors. However, significant differences exist in regards to how the tax incentives are applied.
Participants emphasized that the review of the EAC Treaty should go alongside the review of progress of EAC integration.
During his closing remarks, Hon. Otiam Emmanuel Otaala, the Chairperson of the Natural Resources Committee, Parliament of Uganda stressed the need for EAC Partner States to recognize existing commonalities and capitalize on them and downplay the differences if they are to move forward as a bloc. The covid 19 pandemic has affected trade across the board. He later re-echoed the need to review the EAC Treaty to reflect the current regional situation.