The food trade across border in the East African Community is particularly hampered by non-tariff barriers (NTBs). So far, each of the six EAC Partner States had different regulations and procedures for enforcement of standards for foods, especially pre-packaged foods. Such inconsistencies in trade requirements create a great deal of uncertainty for the business community trading in these commodities and increase the cost of doing business in the region. The EAC has already approved a framework to facilitate EAC cross-border trade of food and cosmetics and has now taken another step of paramount importance to implement this framework.
It is a great milestone for intra-regional trade in the EAC that the East African Standards Committee, supported by EU-EAC MARKUP through EAC-GIZ, developed and adopted harmonised criteria for the registration and certification of pre-packaged food on the 8th October 2020. The Standards Committee also developed a roadmap for the implementation of the framework, including the harmonised registration and certification of pre-packaged foods. The criteria include detailed harmonised approaches registration and certification for three types of pre-packaged food:
Firstly, pre-packaged food manufactured in conformity to international standards and certified by a national regulatory authority of a Partner State. These products shall be treated as having been certified based on a harmonised EAC standard, thus gaining unhindered access to any other EAC Partner State.
Secondly, pre-packaged food manufactured in conformity to national standards, in instances where there are no harmonised East African or international standards. On reaching a port of entry, these products shall be treated as having been certified based on harmonised EA standards, upon fulfilling certain requirements. The exporting Partner State is to notify of the intention to export pre-packaged foods certified based on national standards into the importing Partner State and provide the full text of the standards. The importing Partner State is to provide the exporting Partner State with a feedback on results of its evaluation whether such products may be accepted in the importing country.
Thirdly, pre-packaged food for which there are no national, regional or international product standards. The procedure and requirements for registration and certification of pre-packaged foods with no standards include a batch wise assessment and batch certification done as appropriate. Furthermore, manufacturers are required to prove the fitness of each consignment against pre-set quality and safety requirements by conducting tests using a laboratory recognised by a competent authority in the country of origin. The products may, on request of the exporter, be subjected to batch certification by the National Standards Body of the country of origin. At a port of entry, a batch certified product may be detained, sampled or tested and only released upon confirmation of conformance by the importing Partner State.
This is an important step towards facilitating international trade in novel products as it fosters and fast-tracks the development of standards for such products. The harmonised requirements are provided in the EAC harmonised criteria for registration and certification of pre-packaged food, recently adopted by the EAC Partner States.