Uganda develops SMS service to report trade barriers

Uganda has developed an information exchange system that will allow East Africans to report non-tariff barriers (NTBs) via a short message service on their mobile phone.

Sam Watasa, lead aiser on Uganda’s national response strategy for the elimination of NTBs said that the system, set up at a cost of $100,000, will provide a clear record of NTBs, and help the country assess progress in eliminating them.

“When you use the hard copy form and take it to the appropriate desk, it takes anywhere between one and three months before the matter is dealt with,” he said. “Under the new system, the message will reach the department that introduced the NTB immediately.”

Previously, Uganda recorded NTBs manually on paper at border points, which partly explains why the country has the highest number in the region, according to the latest EAC report on the elimination of NTBs. Uganda has nine, compared with Kenya and Tanzania that have seven each Burundi has five while Rwanda has four.

Under the new system, a person experiencing a barrier sends an SMS to code 201, at a cost of Ush150 ($0.06).

The Ministries of Trade and Industry and East African Community Affairs, whose responsibility it is to ensure that Uganda does not create any impediments to trade, also receive the message, and are in turn expected to push the government department that introduced the NTB to remove it. 

The move comes at a time when the region is working to eliminate trade barriers as laid out in the Common Market Protocol, which allows the free movement of goods, labour, services and capital.

The report on NTBs points out that last year, for example, Uganda introduced a requirement that cigarettes imported from Kenya must have 70 per cent local tobacco content — tobacco produced in Uganda. This goes against the freedoms guaranteed under the Common Market Protocol.

Uganda has since 1996 also continued to restrict beef and beef products from Kenya. Tanzania has approximately 30 police roadblocks while Kenya charges a plant import permit at Malaba at the border with Uganda, for tea destined for the Mombasa auction.

The existence of NTBs has been blamed for the stagnation in intra-EAC trade which has remained below 13 per cent over the past three years. Intra-EAC trade rose from $3.8 billion in 2012 to $4.5 billion in 2013.

READ: Trade between EAC countries at new highs, but numbers still low

Rashid Kibowa, the commissioner for economic affairs at Uganda’s Ministry of East African Community Affairs, said that intra-regional trade should account for at least 25 per cent of the total trade volumes in any market that has integrated economically.

Even this would still be lower than the figure obtained in other trading blocs such as the European Union whose internal trade stands at 55 per cent. 

SOURCE: The East African