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‘Technology helps to reduce trade barriers’

Trucks at the Uganda-Kenya border

More traders plying the East African business corridors are reporting more complaints of non-tariff barriers that they continue to encounter, a Ugandan official, has said.

Mary Amumpaire Mwesigwa, an officer in charge of non-tariff barriers in Uganda’s ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, says that ever since an electronic system of reporting non-tariff barriers (NTBs) was launched last year, they have received more reports of complaints. This has  helped countries in the region to find solutions for these complaints.

“Previously, drivers had to park their vehicles for days trying to find anyone who can resolve their problems. But the system now helps us make sure that the problem is immediately solved as soon as it is reported. If you are in Kabale, for instance, and report say a problem at a weighbridge, UNRA (Uganda National Roads Authority) will immediately contact the weighbridge supervisor of that area to sort out the problem,” she said.

She was speaking at a conference organized by the ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives at Colline hotel in Mukono recently. Mwesigwa explained that the electronic non-tariff barrier reporting system has made it possible for timely reporting and resolution of reported NTBs.

NTBs remain a challenge to regional trade, mainly within the East African Community (EAC) partner states. NTBs are laws, regulations and policies, whether structural, administrative or institutional, imposed by partner state that impede intra-regional trade other than the already-imposed taxes.

For instance, weigh bridges, too many police roadblocks, several standard inspections, customs challenges, immigration, costly and long business registration and licensing requirements,  and plant and animal inspection, among others.

DELAYS

Mwesigwa explained that non-tariff barriers heavily contribute to unnecessary delays, induce corruption, which, in turn increases the cost of doing business in the region. The electronic NTB reporting system is web-based or phone-based.

For instance, under the phone-based system, one needs to dial *201# and select NTB to report and send. The message costs Shs 140. For one to report by email, the user has to first access a complaint form from the ministry of trade, industry and cooperatives website at http.ntbtool.mtic.go.ug/register/php; then complete the form and submit.

Mwesigwa said the complaint is then received directly in the ministry of trade and other related public institutions such as police, UNRA, and UNBS, among others.

“Traders, and truck drivers, can now have their complaints resolved by simply an SMS,” she said.

EAC partner states are required to respond to NTB complaints within 48 hours, although Mwesigwa explained that the electronic system responds within an hour. Each partner state formed a national monitoring Committee to monitor and coordinate the elimination of NTBs and advocate for their removal. This included realignment of national laws and policies to ensure elimination.

So far, 948 complaints have been received and the majority of them are said to be resolved instantly. It is through this system, she explained, that the Uganda police restructured its traffic operations along the Jinja highway as a result of the numerous cases of corruption and extortion that were being reported through the system.

“As a rule, all the institutions have to respond to their complaints,” she said. She said that Kenya and Burundi are already benchmarking on the Ugandan system, and there are plans to ensure that there is one electronic system of reporting NTBs in all the partner states.

However, she noted some people didn’t want to report NTBs for fear of being victimized.  

Mwesigwa explained that the system offers a direct avenue for the private sector to report NBTs so that the public sector can respond appropriately. The system is designed to be simple and easy to use, and anyone with a mobile phone or internet services can use it.

ssekika@observer.ug

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