WITH support of the United States, the East African Community (EAC) is upgrading its regional civil aviation with the aim of gaining Category One certification by the US Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) for starting direct passenger air transport between the United States and the EAC region.
According to EAC Secretary-General Juma V. Mwapachu, presently, only Kenya and Tanzania have gained the certification among the five member countries of the regional grouping.
Receiving the credentials of US Ambassador Alfonso E. Lenhardt as representative of the United States to the EAC, Mwapachu said there were pending operational issues, mainly centred on threats of terrorism, which have delayed the commencement of direct flights,
The US government has already assisted the EAC region in the installation of state-of-the-art baggage security scanners at Jomo Kenyatta, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and Entebbe international airports in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda respectively.
“Expansion of this support is now being considered under the US Safe Skies for Africa Programme,” Mwapachu said, adding that some senior staff from the region have undergone high level on-the-job training in aviation safety and security under the same programme.
The US government is also supporting the feasibility study and design of the EAC Upper Flight Information Region and its system architecture as well as a follow-up study on the sustainability of the lower airspace which will lead to establishment of the regional control centre.
Mwapachu anticipated the EAC region to experience higher levels of tourist visits from the United States after the commencement of direct flights.
Trade between the US and the EAC region in 2009 favoured the former with a trade surplus of $590 million. US exports to EAC amounted to $974 million while the EAC exports to the US brought in $384 million.
In July 2008, the US and the EAC signed a Trade Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) aiming to strengthen their trade and investment relationships, expand and diversify bilateral trade and improve the business climate between American and East African enterprises.
“The challenge is for the EAC region to export more by exploiting the preferential access under AGOA as well as opportunities under the TIFA,” said Mwapachu, explaining that the EAC was exploring a number of avenues geared at improving agricultural productivity including value addition, and bolstering the capacity of small and medium enterprises in the region.
Reaffirming the US support to the EAC, Ambassador Lenhardt said: “We consider regional economic integration to be a highly effective means of promoting prosperity through increased trade and investment. In fact, we have pursued similar policies ourselves.”
He explained that the US, Canada and Mexico entered into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which shares some aspects in common with the East African Common Market.
“One of the major barriers to trade between EAC members and the United States is the high cost of doing business in the region. These high costs are in part due to unreliable transportation infrastructure, redundant bureaucracy, and the small size of most domestic markets,” Lenhardt added.
The US is the first nation to nominate an ambassador to the EAC, and, according to Lenhardt, that act was an expression by Washington of its confidence in the EAC's ability to contribute significantly to bettering the lives of millions of East Africans.