Ugandan goods are set to enjoy the benefits of a larger European market after the East African Community and the European Union ended negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) after more than a decade of talks.
Kristian Schmidt, the head of delegation of the Europe Union in Uganda, says EPA is about to enter into force and that, when it does, the conditions to trade and invest will be easier for the countries in the EAC region and those in the EU.
"The trade negotiators have done their duty. The European markets are open to East Africa business community," he said recently. "Exports originating from Uganda and the entire EAC will enter the market of all EU member states without paying customs duties and without limitation in quantities, for an indefinite time."
Schmidt was addressing a press conference organized by the European Business Forum (EBF), which was intended to announce the forthcoming European Business Expo and Food festival to be held in Kampala starting today, May 6.
Schmidt added: "So, this leaves the door open for any company operating in Uganda to export freely; no customs duty to an integrated, single market of 28 European countries, with 508 million consumers with considerable purchasing power."
According to Schmidt, Uganda and EAC partner states have committed to partially and gradually reduce, and eliminate, customs duties on selected imports originating from the EU.
"That means EAC operators can import from Europe more strategically. They will be allowed to buy duty-free, thereby at a lower cost, much-needed inputs and intermediate goods to improve productivity and value-addition and connect to the global value chain...," he said.
He also said that the new agreement fully supports the EAC drive for regional integration, a crucial stepping stone for global competitiveness.
"There are some things, of course, that only Uganda can do, such as creating a favourable context for businesses to grow and necessary domestic, national and regional reforms. This requires competent domestic institutions to enhance cooperation and build trust," he said. He added: "These first events highlight that Uganda can attract more EU foreign direct investments, for instance, by streamlining the issuing of work permits, stronger capacity to comply with EU standards, improved public-private dialogue and sharing of market information."
On the expo, Schmidt said the first annual European Business Hub and Food festival aims at bringing together economic operators interested in the EU. Although this first focus is on the food sector, I understand there is a will to also cover other topics like fashion, tourism and energy among others," he said.
He added: "It's important to showcase the many trade and business links already existing between Europe and Uganda. It's just as important to draw attention to the potential for further market and investment opportunities."
Schmidt also said that unemployment in Europe continues to decline; there is hope that foreign direct investment and trade with Europe can also contribute to addressing Uganda's serious employment challenge.
There are currently more than 500 private companies in Uganda doing business with Europe, whether owned by Europeans, Ugandans, or mixed.
"At about 20 per cent of Uganda's total exports, the EU represents a key export market for Ugandan products, as well as a very important source of good-quality imports at 11 per cent," he said.
The expo will run from May 6 to 8 at the Sheraton Kampala gardens and entrance will be Shs 15,000 for children and Shs 30,000 for adults.