The effect of the East African community integration process on informal cross-border trade (ICBT) : an analysis of the Customs Union Protocol

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Informal cross border trade (ICBT) includes imports and exports that are traded across borders informally by escaping the normal border procedures like customs clearance. As a consequence of the said informality, ICBT is viewed as illegal cross border activities. Despite the fact that it is not possible to give the accurate extent of ICBT in the East African Community (EAC), it continues to grow by the day and has contributed significantly to economic and sustainable growth. It therefore has the potential to support the ongoing initiatives on poverty reduction and raise the standards of living for a majority of the people. In fact, if properly managed, it definitely has the effect of boosting the economies. The concept therefore that ICBT is illegal trade shows that legislators have not fully appreciated the benefits of this trade and the fact that they have downplayed it means overlooking a significant proportion of trade. The main aim of the study therefore is to give an overview of the nature and scope as well as the significance of ICBT in EAC. In this regard, the three major advantages are that it is a source of employment, assists in eradicating poverty and contributes immensely towards food security in the region. The study also analyzes the Customs Union Protocol and highlights opportunities that can be derived from specific articles for the benefit of the informal cross border traders and eventually comes up with policy recommendations to provide a regulatory environment that can accommodate both the formal and informal sector without harming either of the two. The research has also discussed the regional integration initiatives taken with the aim of promoting economic development in the Community and their effect on ICBT. The route taken by Africa as a whole is market integration which has not been without difficulties. As an alternative, regionalism from below could be the better way forward in the quest for regional economic integration considering ICBT has greatly supported the shrinking formal economy. This would mean tapping into this informal trade by building on those informal trade networks to create a robust economy bearing in mind that is where a substantial proportion of cross-border trade is conducted. This would ultimately lead to formalizing ICBT. While it may seem difficult, the study shows that formalizing ICBT and having its official recognition in the Customs Union Protocol would be a stepping stone to realizing economic integration within the Community. It is a kind of trade that is there to stay and as a result of the shrinking formal economy; EAC will with time have to deal with ICBT as a parallel and alternative source of employment in relation to the formal sector. Therefore, it is necessary that the Community deals with ICBT sooner rather than later considering it has become a social-economic lifestyle for a large number of EAC citizens.