* Uganda seeks tariff-free imports for six months
* Shortage has angered citizens (Adds export ban, background)
By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Uganda has taken steps to ease a severe sugar shortage including banning exports and applying to the East African Community trade bloc to be allowed tariff-free sugar imports, instead of the 100 percent now imposed, officials said on Friday.
Drought and a temporary closure of Uganda’s second-biggest raw sugar producer have caused shortages of the commodity in the east African nation, and prices have doubled.
To forestall a sharper shortage, President Yoweri Museveni banned any exports forthwith.
“President Yoweri Museveni has said ... that no more sugar exports will be allowed as this has been part of the problem,” his office said in a statement.
The supply crunch has forced supermarkets in Kampala, the capital, and other major towns to start rationing the sweetener, while members of the public and government have accused some traders of hoarding stocks and escalating the crisis.
“We have written to the secretary general of the East African Community to immediately allow us to waive all taxes on sugar and start importing at zero tariffs for a period of six months,” Fred Omach, junior finance minister, told a news conference.
“(The cabinet) noted the shortage of sugar of approximately 40,000 tonnes on account of inadequate supply ... we hope to import this same amount in the six months,” Omach added, referring to an emergency meeting held on Thursday to discuss the economy.
The country consumes about 320,000 tonnes of raw sugar, and the Uganda Sugar Cane Technologists Association (USCTA) says its three major producers are unlikely to meet their 2011 output target of 350,000 tonnes because of the effects of drought and power supply disruption.
According to USCTA, the country exported 67,000 tonnes of raw sugar last year.
The East African Community, which also includes Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya and Burundi, has a regional common market and customs union, and member states have to seek its permission to deviate from its tariff rules. (Editing by George Obulutsa)