Experts have warned that Uganda is currently not positioned well to exploit the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
Speaking during a meeting to share information and perspectives on the current state of play of the AfCFTA negotiations organised at Fairway Hotel in Kampala, SEATINI Executive Director, Jane Nalunga said despite the enormous benefits presented by AfCFTA, Uganda seems not prepared to reap them.
“It is a great opportunity because it offers a bigger market for us as Uganda but the biggest challenge is that we need to position ourselves to be able to profit from it. We haven’t produced the right quantity and quality as Uganda,” Nalunga said.
“We have failed miserably in the area of quality and quantity. It is the reason some of our products like maize flour have been rejected by Kenya and South Sudan. The issue of quality is affecting our efforts to exploit the benefits of the continental market. The market is available but we don’t have the required quantity to sell in this market.”
According to the SEATINI Executive Director, on many occasions, Uganda has entered agreements with various countries to export a given number of products but the country has fallen short of meeting these targets.
“The markets are available but government has so far failed to coordinate our producers to meet the required standards for these markets.
She also highlighted a challenge of infrastructure in accessing markets like those in West and North Africa that she said might be very far for producers from the East African country.
Nalunga however said Uganda ought to concentrate on markets nears it which are viable.
“There are markets easy to penetrate and but others are difficult. For example, the East African region including Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, DRC, Burundi and South Sudan is a big market for us to put strong emphasis than trying to go for difficult markets like west and north Africa. East Africa is a viable market that we should put so much emphasis on.”
According to experts, the new trading block is expected to bring together 1.2 billion people and a combined GDP of more than $3.4 trillion.
The Assistant Commissioner for Regional and Bilateral Division External Trade at the Ministry of Trade, Richard Okot Okello however noted that the African Continental Free Trade Agreement presents several opportunities for Uganda to benefit.
“The African Continental Free Trade Agreement is creating a bigger and integrated regional market for African products as key Ugandan products like eggs, milk, tea, fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables can easily access the African market,” Okot said.
He noted that Uganda stands to benefit from AfCFTA as consumers will have access to cheaper imported products from other African countries but also catalyse the structural transformation of the countries from resource and low technology-based economies to more diversified knowledge-based economies.
“AfCFTA will stimulate cooperation in other areas such as technology transfer, innovation, investment and continent-wide infrastructure development.”
According to the SEATINI Executive Director, it is high time government took a firm stand on the quality of goods produced locally to ensure they meet standards required in the African market.
“Government has to put more resources in agriculture, trade, industry and many other areas like UNBS to ensure people adhere to standards,” Nalunga urged.
“We need to be able to revive cooperatives to provide us with the opportunity to be able to produce bigger quantities but also ensure the required quality. This business of each farmer producing on their own affects us so much.”
The trade expert also urged government to work hand in hand with the private sector to ensure the country readies itself for the African market than allowing working in silos.
“ Our private sector is still young and made up of small, medium and micro enterprises and some times it is really difficult for such enterprises to be able to benefit from these markets. They need government’s helping hand,” she said.
The meeting was organised by SEATINI and the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry under the theme, "Deepening the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA): Unpacking Issues and Opportunities’’.