Donor- funded trade organisation, TradeMark East Africa (TMEA), has unveiled a Sh2.1 billion emergency fund to support safe trade in the region even as Covid-19 trade wars threaten the East African Community.
The organisation said the Safe Trade Initiative would urgently support East and the Horn of Africa to make ports, borders, and critical supply chains safe to trade.
"The Safe Trade Emergency Facility will be quickly rolled out in all the countries TradeMark East Africa has a foot print in the region," TMEA chief executive Frank Matsaert said in an emailed interview with Smart Company.
The organisation operates in Burundi, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Somaliland, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Djibouti, Malawi and Zambia.
Kenya is coming from a major trade dispute with Tanzania over tests and movement of truck drivers at the border.
This is now shifting to Uganda where hundreds of truck drivers are currently stuck, waiting for the governments to agree on how to deal with the border clearance.
The different strategies in combating the deadly virus are making trade a casualty.
TradeMark estimates that these delays and interruptions in East Africa have reduced trade volumes by 30 per cent along key regional trade corridors. This will get worse unless governments stop escalation of the Covid-19 trade wars currently being fought at the borders in the region.
The emergency fund will also ensure the smooth functioning of food and critically required medical supply chains and support measures to prevent job losses and make the region more resilient to future crisis.
Further, it would introduce rapid inspection and clearance of goods as well as carry out regular research and survey to inform regional governments response.
The initiative is funded by the European Union, UK's Department for International Development (DFID), the Netherlands and Danida. TMEA says there are other donors interested in supporting the initiative.
Mr Matsaert notes that these are unprecedented times, where governments in the region and across the world are struggling to deal with the Covid-19 virus.
"Unfortunately, some of these measures are having the unintended consequences of slowing down trade and movement of essential cargo. In fact, trade corridors are now feared to be conduits of transmitting the virus," Mr Matsaert said in an interview with Smart Company.
He said these delays ultimately hurt business and make commodities and services more expensive.
"They also jeopardise essential food and medical supplies, and put businesses under strain even further, threatening jobs and livelihoods for millions across the region," he added.
TradeMark says what is critical at this time is to ensure the right balance and interventions are achieved.
That means facilitating trade without compromising health controls aimed at stopping the spread of the virus. The organisation is working with EAC governments through a new initiative, Safe Trade, to achieve this balance.
TradeMark has called on all governments in the region to facilitate safe trade to ensure a smooth flow of essential goods like food and medicines.
"Any interruption of these supply chains will hamper health, food security and employment in all our countries. Just doing things nationally will not work entirely, and we need to stand together and adopt a well joined up East African approach because what happens, for example, in Kenya affects Kenya's neighbours," he said.
The EAC, he added, has made some progress in this direction by creating a trade-health protocol, but more now needs to be done to deepen it so that all countries have confidence in the processes and testing.