THE East African Business Council (EABC) has urged member states in the region to lower and harmonise charges related to Covid-19 pandemic. Currently, Covid-19 tests are priced differently in each EAC partner state, while containment measures are varied.
For instance; Tanzania and Burundi are now charging a standard rate of $100 for both nationals and foreigners while the other partner states’ charges vary. The harmonisation and lowering of Covid-19 related will boost intraregional trade as well ease the cost of doing business in East Africa.
EABC Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, Dr Peter Mathuki views the proposed move as a significant means to support businesses to be more resilient and rebound amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The EAC Secretariat should fast track regional coordination and harmonisation of measures on Covid-19 for economic resilience and growth of the EAC bloc,” said Dr Mathuki.
He called for the establishment of a common quarantine period in the region and fasttracking of the waiting time for Covid-19 test results. Lack of harmonisation of Covid-19 testing rates in accredited laboratories and uncoordinated waiting time for the test results is disrupting crossborder trade.
There have been unnecessary restrictions of movement of people across the region by some states. Covid-19 related Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs), thus, continue to hinder cross-border trade due to different measures on Covid-19 in the bloc. As of October 2020, the World Bank predicted growth in Sub-Saharan Africa to fall to -3.3 per cent, driven by the economic fallout of the Covid-19 global pandemic.
Different preventive and restrictive measures undertaken by EAC partner states to control the spread of Covid-19 have significantly slowed down trade, movement of persons and integration. The trickle-down effects of the measures have also been felt across affiliated industries and the rest of the economy.
Dr Mathuki noted that reduction and harmonisation of Covid-19 related NTBs will also enable businesses to tap into the opportunities availed by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). “AfCFTA prioritises addressing challenges in trade policy, productive capacity, hard and soft infrastructure, trade information and market integration which are critical for doing business in the continent,” he said.
Truck drivers specifically have been experiencing challenges on borders and in spite of meetings of ministers responsible for health and transport, some countries stuck to their guns, by disallowing drivers to enter their borders or putting stringent conditions for them.
It happened to truckers from Tanzania to Kenya and Rwanda. In March, last year the EAC unveiled a comprehensive Covid-19 Response Plan to reinforce measures to protect and prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic within the region. The response plan was developed following a directive by the joint meeting of ministers responsible for health, trade and EAC affairs.
Among key interventions proposed in the plan are risk communication and community engagement that was to entail strengthening sensitisation programmes and awareness creation on Covid-19. The response plan further sought to ensure access to Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) materials, laboratory supplies and equipment by the EAC organs and institutions and the EAC partner states.
Another key intervention was to strengthen the region’s capacity for Covid-19 surveillance and reporting at all key border points, and build knowledge on safety measures, existing prevention and control strategies, and relevant regional guidelines.
Mitigation of the fundamental impacts of the pandemic on the vital economic and social sectors of the region including micro, small and medium enterprises was another key intervention outlined in the document. Other proposed measures included building regional capacity to support Partner States on surveillance, monitoring and coordination of preparedness and response to the pandemic; research and development, and resource mobilisation.
In spite of several agreements, some partner states decided to go their own ways, exercising lockdowns and stringent restrictions that have so far not paid, as cases rise and deaths have been registered. Tanzania defeated Covid-19 in style and has since opened up its skies and tourists are jetting in in huge numbers.