What, in your opinion, is the relevance of regional integration?
Across the world different regional integration blocs have come up on the basis of different issues. But for our case (East Africa) we are looking at creating a competitive ground for all countries, especially small ones as well as allowing comparative advantage to strengthen a particular country’s production capacity.
Has Uganda realised any benefits from the integration?
Yes! Certainly there have been benefits, especially in the area of trade. For instance, in the last 10 years Uganda has seen its trade across the region increase both in terms of volumes and quality. Trade volumes and investments by Ugandans in countries like Rwanda and Kenya have increased partly because of free movement of goods, labour and capital.
How does Uganda’s regional exports and imports balance sheet weigh?
Of course it is an unbalanced equation. We have a lot of imports coming in and fewer exports and that is one of the challenges we are facing right now. Our exports cannot provide a buffer against currency volatility. Therefore one of our main works as Trademark East Africa is to work with government and see how we can improve our export potential.
How far have you reached in regard to creating one-stop border posts?
You have hit the nail on the head. Ours is an effort geared towards reducing the cost of trade across the region, especially on transportation of goods. We have mainly put our emphasis on improving physical access to markets through one-border posts. Already border posts, at Busia, Mutukula in Tanzania and Mirama Hills in Rwanda have been constructed and soon we shall establish others at Eregu in South Sudan.
Our target is to reduce the cost of trade by 30 per cent with the time of crossing one country to another reducing substantially.
Can you quantify how much time or resources one is saving because of one-border posts?
Before one would need 18 days to move goods from Mombasa (to Kampala) but this time has reduced substantially. For instance fuel trucks crossing from Busia Kenya to Uganda would take three days but now they take only three hours. This is one of the reasons why there are no more erratic fuel shortages like it used to be.
In terms of exports, what is Uganda’s biggest market within East Africa and which goods does the country export?
Within the EAC, our biggest exports are to Kenya but outside the EAC our biggest exports are to South Sudan and DR Congo. Those two markets (South Sudan and DR Congo) are important to Uganda that is why we are constructing one-stop border posts at Eregu and Nimule. Uganda mainly exports agricultural products, fish, horticulture, minerals, tea and maize.
What are the main challenges that the region continues to face in regard to the integration?
Some countries have refused to eliminate non-tariff barriers. For instance, the recent noise concerning sugar exports to Kenya is a huge challenge to the integration. However, we are confident these issues will be addressed because the political will is there.
Have you had any investment projects in the region and to what tune?
So far we have $560m in the entire region with $100m gong into infrastructure reforms in Uganda. Apart from that we have also worked with other institutions such as Uganda National Bureau of Standards to improve such organisations’ capacity.
Going forward, what are some of your plans?
We are trying to see what more we can do for Ugandans to benefit from the integration. We have three key areas of support, including improved physical access to markets, enhancing trade and improving systems.
Who are some of your key partners?
We work closely with government, especially with Uganda Revenue Authority, Private Sector Foundation Uganda, civil society and donors.
Apart from trade, do you have any other programme, especially for youth and women?
At the regional level we have specific programmes promoting culture, knowledge and integration. However, here in Uganda we have made sure that all our programmes have a window that integrates women and youth.
Tit bits on TMEA
Allen Asiimwe, the trademark East Africa Uganda country director
Trademark East Africa seeks to make East Africa a better place to do business, increasing growth and reducing poverty. It aims to do this by lowering barriers to trade, increasing efficiency of transport corridors and cutting the red tape. It is a special purpose vehicle funded by a pool of donors to implement the Regional East Africa Integration Programme, in close collaboration with East African Community institutions, national governments, business and civil society organisations. KPMG, an audit firm set up the Trademark East Africa programme in its entirety in 2009.
Achievements. Trademark East Africa has among other things helped Burundi to set up a revenue authority. Since setting it up the country’s tax revenue has doubled and the country has been named as one of the top 10 reforming economies in the world by Ease of Doing Business Organisation.