The economies of East African Community member states grew by more than five percent last year making the region one of fastest growing in the world.
Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Christian Friss Bach said “an average growth of more than five percent is indeed impressive in a world where economic headlines are dominated by words such as crisis, regression, negative growth etc.”
“I hope to bring some lessons back to Europe, which as you might have noticed, actually has negative growth,” Mr Bach told an EAC stakeholder forum organized by TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) at Southern Sun Hotel in Nairobi on Thursday.
EAC secretary general Richard Sezibera said last year’s regional gross domestic growth compared to the three percent world average.
“Our region therefore continues to be one of the fastest growing regions in the world..If, as I believe, this Century is Africa’s century, East Africa is the trailblazer in Africa’s century. East Africa’s Century must however, be owned by East Africans. If we do not own it, others will,” Dr Sezibera said.
Mr Bach said although EAC is the youngest of eight regional economic communities with the signing of the single market protocol last year, it is now the most advanced in Africa.
“As a small open economy in Denmark has experienced huge benefits from the single European market for the past 25 years. I believe all countries in East Africa can reap similar benefits if the single market in East Africa is implemented,” Mr Bach said.
The minister said a combined EAC market of 133 million people reduces transaction costs, eases the distribution of commodities and creates wealth by spurring competition and forcing the private sector to constantly be more innovative and effective.
He said regional integration has the potential to improve food security in the region, a thing that will benefit both farmers and poor households where food accounts for the major part of their household expenditure.
Mr Bach said regional integration would also boost stability in the region.
The minister announced that his government has approved US$27.5 million to help EAC countries transition towards a single market. The money is a contribution to EAC Partnership Fund, support to TMEA to facilitate implementation of the EAC Common Market Protocol and to enable private sector to accelerate use of the single market.
Dr Sezibera said foreign direct investments into EAC region has grown from US$ 683 million in 2005 to US$1.7 billion in 2010.
“The figures I am currently receiving on Intra EAC trade for 2011 are very encouraging. In fact, they are so encouraging I have decided to subject them to further analysis before we make them public. There is no doubt that East Africa is rising,” Dr Sezibera said.
The Secretary General said with the consolidation of the customs union, the launch of the implementation of the common market and the advancement preparations towards the establishment of a monetary union, the East African integration clock has turned full circle and gathered momentum.
“We are at the cusp of a new defining moment,” Dr Sezibera said.
Kenya’s Trade Minister Chirau Mwakwere said regional integration has helped enhance diversification of “our export basket from the traditional primary goods to more value added products.”
The minister said more than 47 percent f the region’s total exports now go to Africa.
He said exports to EAC account for over 26 percent of Kenya’s total exports and that a substantial amount of Kenya’s foreign direct investment also goes to Uganda and Tanzania.
Mr Mwakwere cited building of regional infrastructure that will support the continuing growth and development and non-tariff barriers are main constrain to integration.
TMEA chief executive Frank Matsaert said non-tariff barriers have enormously negative impact on the economy, on business and individuals and that eliminating them will lower the cost of transporting goods.
“NTBs also erode the benefits of regional integration across Africa. For example, why should it cost between US$1,000 to US$ 1,200 to ship a container from Baltimore in the US to Dar es Salaam and a further staggering US$10,000 to US$12,000 to ship the same container from Dar es Salaam to Bujumnura?” Mr Matsaert asked.
The CEO said TMEA is working with partners to improve infrastructure at ports of Mombasa and Da es Salaam, on six one-stop border posts while customs and IT systems were also being developed to facilitate trade.
“We are working closely with partners to realize our goals of a united and prosperous East Africa,” Mr Matsaert said.