KAMPALA – Members of the business community engaged in cross-border trade within the East African Community countries of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania are well-positioned to start enjoying smooth trade flows in earnest when the concept of a Single Customs Territory (SCT) becomes operational. Under that arrangement, the EAC member states will adopt a destination model of clearance of imports whereby the assessment and collection of tax revenues on such consignments will be done at the first point of entry. This allows free circulation of goods within the single EAC market, with variations here and there to accommodate exports from one partner state to another. In that regard, Customs administrations in destination states retain control over the assessment of taxes. Senior EAC officials say this will crystallize the gains of regional integration characterized by minimal internal border controls and more efficient institutional mechanisms for clearing goods out of Customs control. According to Stephen Magera, the Acting Commissioner of Customs with the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), the Single Customs Territory arrangements will lead to the removal of Customs checkpoints and weigh-bridges. For instance, “there will only be one checkpoint, at Maryakani, between Mombasa and Malaba; the others will be removed,” Magera told participants at a consultative meeting in Kampala recently. Stakeholders say that the Single Customs Territory initiative is a positive move, as it will help reduce transit time, as well as the cost of doing business. Commenting upon the matter, the secretary-general of the Uganda Freight Forwarders Association (UFFA), Jeniffer Mwijukye, said the business community would benefit immensely from the removal of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs). “I think it (SCT) is a good initiative. It is a positive step; it is what we in the business community have been longing for because other initiatives have failed! “In this initiative, we are looking at two very important elements as far as logistics are concerned: reduced time and, of course, reduced costs. We are looking at time because we know that if we pay taxes – especially for the compliant clients who go through ‘green’ their consignments will ultimately spend less than five days at the port; that is a positive,” Mwijukye enthused. Considering that the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) gives importers a nine-day grace storage period, then they should be able to clear their goods out of the port within that period – and without having to pay any storage charges. This, she explained, is bound to lead to reduced costs. Mwijukye added that “the cost normally associated with Customs bonds will also b reduced, as insurance charges will not be applied. Also, those bringing in goods to be warehoused will only need one insurance bond cover… This is different from the multiple covers we’ve been having. And, of course each bond you execute for the transit cargo has got an implication on the price!” The national chairman of the Uganda Clearing Industry & Forwarding Association (UCIFA), Kassim Omar, also heaps praises on the benefits expected from the Single Customs Territory arrangements. But he adds that success of the requisite processes dependent on active participation and cooperation of all stakeholders. “The Single Customs Territory is a noble initiative,” Omar says, adding that “it will help in the reduction of NTBs. However, government needs to put in place the necessary infrastructure; ICT systems need to be put in place to enable the different systems interface so that there is facilitation of trade. “The governments have to ensure that there is compatibility of the monetary processes as well. An aligned currency factor should also be considered so that there is total harmony,” he cautioned, adding that “the SCT is in one way forward on the regional integration agenda. I know there will be some job losses here and there; but change has to take place for the better.” Sarah Mwesigye, the Assistant Commissioner for Field Services at URA, revealed that the tax body was looking to commencing a pilot study on goods for warehousing then roll out the requisite process later. “Because we are trying to remove Customs verification at the border, we shall start with those very goods that have been causing congestion at the borders. The pilot study is only for warehousing purposes, and (duties on) imports not for warehousing will be paid for at the Malaba and Busia borders,” she clarified. IN A RELATED DEVELOPMENT, THE COMMISSIONERS-GENERAL OF UGANDA, RWANDA AND KENYA REVENUE AUTHORITIES MET IN KAMPALA EARLY THIS MONTHTO DRAW UP A ROAD MAP FOR THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE SINGLE CUSTOMS TERRITORY. During the deliberations, the Technical Committee said the Uganda and Rwanda Revenue Authorities will have to establish offices at the port of Mombasa by the end of August, while the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) will use its local offices in Uganda and Rwanda to receive payment for port charges. During the Council of Ministers meeting that was attended by the Finance ministers of Rwanda and Uganda, the commissioners-general were tasked to remodel the report and rectify issues especially on cargo tracking and IT. Kenya Revenue Authority’s commissioner-general was, however, not able to attend the meetings following the fire that gutted the Jommo Kenyatta International Airport’s Arrivals section. According to Sarah Banage, the URA Assistant Commissioner, Public & Corporate Affairs, the meeting – which was the third leg of the commissioners-general meeting on the Single Customs Territory programme, provided a report that was presented to the Council of Ministers for action. Summing up on the Single Customs Territory concept, Banage said “this means that, for the purposes of customs clearance of goods, we become one region. We clear goods at the port of entry (say, Mombasa) where the taxes are paid and thereafter there are no road blocks all through to the country of destination…”