East Africa: EAC Neighbours Are Our Biggest Markets - Kabonero

The Uganda - Tanzania Business Forum is a new thing. What is it all about?

Basically, the Uganda-Tanzania Business Forum is organised by our two diplomatic missions. The Uganda High Commission in Dar es Salaam and the Tanzanian High Commission in Kampala together with the private sector foundations in both countries. It will take place on September 4 and 5, beginning with an exhibition of the products by companies from both countries that are doing business, followed by the business forum to be presided over by their excellencies, the heads of State of the two countries, on Thursday, September 5.

What does the forum aim to achieve?

The aim of this forum is three-fold. Exploring cross-border trade and investment opportunities in both countries, reducing the cost of doing business through harmonising regulatory frameworks and investing in infrastructure, elimination of the remaining non-tariff barriers and adding value to our extractives. There are a lot of new developments that are coming up that we want to take advantage of, one of them being the largest bilateral investment in our East African community region.

The East African Crude Oil Pipeline that is going to be built from Hoima to Tanga and Dar es Salaam. The pipeline has immense opportunities for our private sector as far as local content is concerned and also participation in other activities along the pipeline. We have also revived aviation ties with Uganda Airlines, which is scheduled to resume flights on the Entebbe-Dar route that will also be a measure for reducing costs of flying within our region. Air Tanzania is already flying from Dar es Salaam to Entebbe four times a week, so we hope that with the addition of the Uganda Airlines, the cost of flying between our two capitals and also across the region will be lowered.

The third one on infrastructure, is investment by both countries in the railway. Tanzania is building the Standard Gauge Railway from the port of Dar es Salaam to Mwanza.

In addition, both countries are investing in vessels that will bring goods off the train, and onto the lake from Mwanza to Port Bell and eventually to the new port that the Uganda government is investing in, at Bukasa in Wakiso District.

As far as infrastructure is concerned, aviation, railway and road networks are going to reduce the cost of doing business.

We also want to look into the one- area network so that we can remove roaming charges, making calls cheaper but also the attendant benefit of cross- border mobile payments and other digital solutions. All these businesses will thrive across our borders. We encourage Ugandan businessmen and the private sector to come to Dar es Salaam and participate in the forum, look at the opportunities and explore cross border investments and in the Tanzanian private sector too.

Don't we have an existing platform where such things are already discussed?

The Uganda-Tanzania Business Forum, which is first of its kind, will be preceded by the Uganda- Tanzania Joint Permanent Commission(JPC), is the formal bi-lateral framework which anchors our mutual cooperation. The JPC will precede the business forum from September 2 to September 4.

In this regard, decisions that will have been arrived at will feed into the business forum because they are meant to address the challenges faced by the private sector in both countries. On paper, the EAC countries are working together but some observers have said we behave like distant neighbours. In fact, some EAC countries are more linked to trading partners in Asia, Europe and America than with their neighbours. This forum presents an opportunity to address some of the gaps that prevent our countries from increasing inter-African trade.

Increased protectionist policies are not typical of East Africa, we see them increasing all over the world. The emerging digital economies will automatically make these measures irrelevant. With business, however, especially with the digital economy, it will be hard to close the physical borders.

Who are you targeting?

We are looking at companies that are doing business or want to do business in Tanzania and Uganda. We are also looking at small and medium enterprises that need to participate in the opportunities presented by the East African Oil Crude Pipeline (EACOP).As well as trade in services. Tanzania is a big market and a member of other Regional Economic Communities like Southern African Development Community.

You speak about trade in services. One of the issues has been the barriers to professionals selling their services across the region. How does the forum help in this regard?

It is true we have not fully harmonised our regulatory frameworks. This is what we are trying to do at government level, not only harmonising standards for trade in services but also product standards. For example, if a product is issued a certificate of compliance in Uganda, it should be able to export to Tanzania without being checked by the Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) and vice-versa, thus reducing the cost for the trader. The standard bureaus need to harmonise their policies so that the policies are applicable in both countries and the region in general.

The focus of Uganda appears to be Kenya, specifically the port of Mombasa...

Uganda's focus remains on the EAC and is happy with infrastructure investments by our neighbours to reduce transport costs of our imports and exports through the ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam. The Northern Central and Southern Corridors present attractive options for our private sector.

Looks like a forum for big business players. Should small and medium enterprises pay attention?

Our neighbours are our biggest markets and cross-border trade is the bedrock of our economy. Small and medium enterprises form the biggest block of our private sector. This forum will present opportunities for SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] to network with their Tanzanian counterparts.

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