Intra — regional trade within the East African Community is currently very low standing at just less than 20 per cent.
This according to experts is very low compared to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) where intra-regional trade levels stand at 46 per cent and the European Union (EU) at approximately 67 per cent.
The director of trade at the EAC Secretariat, Alhajj Rashid Kibowa, while addressing participants at the just concluded symposium on Products Value Addition at the sidelines of the 19th EAC Jua Kali/Nguvu Kazi exhibition last week, said "Partner states need to take advantage of regional integration initiatives like this Jua Kali exhibition to scale up trade amongst them. Otherwise the statistic is still low but with a lot of potential for expansion."
This year's theme, Support Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Build East Africa," augurs well for the region's policy of supporting MSMEs get market within and beyond EAC borders.
Mr Kibowa further said unlike the earlier exhibitions, the ongoing exhibition and future ones would be complemented with a strong daily symposium to empower the exhibitors with knowledge, skills and attitudinal change needed for the growth of the informal sector.
Responding to questions on packaging, value addition and standards, the EAC Principal Standards Officer, Ms Stella Apolot, said packaging was an integral part of value addition as it contributes to the safety, quality, acceptance and competitiveness of the products before the consumers.
Ideally, packaging technology ranges from simple to complex ones in terms of the safety requirements and design, amongst others.
Packaging industry in the EAC is less developed and remains a big challenge for most small and medium enterprises in identifying the right packaging and the costs involved," Ms Apolot explained.
Ms Apolot said Food Additives play a big role in value addition to achieve customer quality requirements. As component of food, food additives are subject to pre-market approval by experts qualified by scientific training and experience to evaluate their safety under the conditions of intended use.
"Food additives, despite being a necessity in value addition, may trigger allergic reactions and possibly lead to other serious health issues. Therefore, Medium and Small Enterprises (MSMEs) need to know the recommended food additives and quantities for each product.
The East African Community Secretariat, draft trade and investment report dated August 2017 showed that the total value of intra-EAC trade fell by 14.6 per cent to $4.4b (Shs16.5 trillion) in 2016, from $5.1b (Shs19.1 trillion) in 2015
The decline, according to the report, was mainly due to a 33 per cent drop in total trade for Tanzania to $851.3m (Shs3.1 trillion), from $1.3b (Shs4.8trillion) in 2015. The total trade for Kenya and Uganda fell by 10.1 per cent and 11.4 per cent respectively.