WASHINGTON — The U.S. signed a new trade cooperation agreement with five East African countries on Wednesday, aiming to increase trade capacity with the East African Community by streamlining and harmonizing customs procedures and addressing technical barriers to trade.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman signed the agreement here with the trade ministers from Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
“Today’s agreement is an important milestone for deepening what has already proven itself to be a promising and impactful partnership,” Froman said. “This agreement will help us lift the burdens that trade barriers impose, unlocking opportunity on both our continents.”
The cooperation agreement with the EAC builds on previous commitments the countries made under the Trade Africa initiative President Obama unveiled in 2013.
“You can already see the results of the EAC’s commitment to reducing trade costs and improving regional integration,” Froman said.
He pointed to one example where container transit times from Mombasa, Kenya, the biggest port in the region, to Kigali, Rwanda, have declined from 21 days to six days in conjunction with a reduction in transport costs by more than $1,700 a container.
“Reducing these types of trade costs has contributed to a more than doubling of intra-EAC trade, from $2.3 billion in 2005 to $4.7 billion in 2013,” Froman said. “Along with our international partners, including the multidonor TradeMark East Africa initiative, the United States has helped reduce the time and cost of moving goods across EAC borders by building one-stop border posts and making investments to upgrade ports.”
The new cooperation agreement will work to further reduce red tape and reduce border release times for goods, increase cooperation and capacity building related to food safety and animal and plant health standards and provide a framework for improving technical regulations, standards, testing and certification, Froman said.
“Collectively, these three efforts reaffirm our joint commitment to deepening regional integration and strengthening the multilateral trading system to help create an environment that allows U.S.-EAC trade and investment to flourish,” he added.
The U.S. has $2.8 billion in two-way trade with the EAC region, of which exports accounted for $2 billion. Total trade in goods grew by 52 percent last year and by 103 percent in the past five years.