EABC Chair outlines priorities to reboot business in East Africa
High on her road map is supporting trade recovery from COVID-19
WEDNESDAY November 23, 2022
By Adam Ihucha
The Tranquility News Correspondent, Tanzania
The new Chairperson of the East African Business Council (EABC), Ms Angelina Ngalula, has rolled out her ambitious roadmap as she seeks a borderless East Africa to boost trade cyst.
With seven partner states of Burundi, DR Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, the The East African Community (EAC) is essentially a robust common market of nearly 300 million population, with a combined GDP of about $305.3 billion, offering crucial opportunities for business and investment.
Ms Ngalula, a high-profile Tanzanian business lady, who is the first female to steer the EABC, also unveiled a package of steps to recoup businesses hobbled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our immediate move is to support business recovery from the worst COVID-19 pandemic to leapfrog other economic sectors, as part of our grand strategy to help East African economy grow by leaps and bounds,” the EABC Chief explained.
To start with, she said, the EABC had launched an online platform for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) eligible for support to access capital from financial institutions in a bid to revive businesses.
“I’m glad that the Equity Bank has come to our rescue with nearly $6 billion credit package for East African SMEs to revive their businesses. I encourage SMEs to grab this rare opportunity,” Ms Ngalula said.
It is understood, the EABC leader recently engaged the Equity Bank Group Executive Director, Dr James Mwangi, in Arusha to deliberate on how the private sector can cooperate with the regional bank in spurring businesses.
She pledged to continue engaging other key players in the financial service industry to support the private sector for it to rejuvenate from effects of COVID-19, climate change and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.
“During my tenure, we will also work on policy issues to continue removing trade barriers, both existing and surfacing ones, to guarantee seamless flow of trade within the region,” Ms Ngalula said, vowing to ensure this agenda becomes sustainable for friendly policies to be formulated.
She said it was high time the EAC partner states did away with nationalistic policies and think more of the region for the trading bloc to compete with other regional economic communities (RECs).
Issues related to transport and logistics are also high on to do list of the new EABC Chief. Indeed, transport and logistics have been one of the challenges impacting the region in terms of trade costs, which have been extremely high.
“Transporting a container from Europe to Tanzania is cheaper than to an East African country. Road toll alone can cost up to TSh4 million (about $1,739.130) and a track hauling goods to DRC takes up to 50 days to return.
“All these contribute to high cost of doing business as well as of goods. We must work on these challenges during my tenure,” Ms Ngalula stressed.
She further said that the EAC could not become competitive if the high transport and logistics costs are not addressed with immediate effect.
One of her priorities is to ensure ports, One Stop Border Posts and inland container depots are efficient in terms of facilitating trade.
She highlighted issues of standards and Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, saying they are critical in facilitating trade across the region.
Experts say standards play a cardinal role in ensuring products produced within the region meet quality benchmarks.
“Standards should not be used as a non-tariff barrier, rather be used for supporting the growth of intra-regional trade,” Ms Ngalula said.
She added that her commitment is to bring natinoal bureau of standards together to ensure they communicate to each other and harmonise standard requirements, including conformity assessment and critical standards infrastructure.
She also praised the reopening of Gatuna-Katuna border and applauded both presidents of Rwanda and Uganda for reopening the border.
“It is through public-private dialogue that the region is able to achieve a win-win situation,” the EABC Chief noted.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a game changer, Ms Ngalula asserted, stressing that recently they launched their tripartite Comesa-Sadc Business Council in Kigali, Rwanda, so that they can continue driving the agreement by addressing daunting challenges, including non-tariff barriers, standards and logistics, and also share vital trade-related information and address issues of trade finance.
That is also a commitment of building the capacity of the private sector as part of the efforts to achieve the EAC vision 2050 that articulates dreams and aspirations of the East Africans and what should be done to realise the goals.
“At the heart of the blueprint is supporting SMEs as we enter into AfCFTA. We ought to look at the level of preparedness of our SMEs to take advantage of the wider market of nearly 1.3 billion people with a combined GDP of around $3.4 trillion. The SMEs need to be the central driver,” Ms Ngalula explained.
She also mentioned about enhancing productive capacity, especially promoting value chains to which the region has comparative advantage.
The EABC Chief cited an example of Tanzania being good at the production of maize and wheat, among various other cereals, for it to become a food basked of the entire region.
Equally critical is fast-tracking Common Market Protocol and ensuring the EABC Secretariat is supported for it to walk its 2022-2027 strategic plan rhetoric.
She pledged to work with the EAC Secretariat in mobilising funds for developing sellable products and value propositions.
Airspace liberalisation is similarly critical — fees should be harmonised and so should levies and taxes on aviation.
Supporting airlines to become competitive by removing unnecessary charges is also part of her manifesto Ω