By David Mugabe
The private sector has lauded the Government for ratifying the COMESA free trade area, saying it will open huge markets for the country.
The Private Sector Foundation boss Gideon Badagawa described the decision as a good development for trade and investments.
“Now that the Government has pronounced itself, we will go full scale to sensitise our members,” said Badagawa over the weekend. Cabinet last week approved a recommendation by the minister of trade for Uganda to join the COMESA free trade area (FTA).
The decision makes Uganda the 15th COMESA FTA member, opening up the opportunity for increased trade competitiveness and increased export earnings.
Badagawa said the FTA opens opportunities for all products and for all sectors, including small-and-medium size enterprises.
He cited Kenya, which has been in EAC and COMESA FTA, benefiting from sourcing cheap intermediate goods.
Other business leaders said they have been lobbying the Government for the last seven years, but that although it was long overdue, the decision is critically important now.
Agro-export products and construction are the immediate beneficiaries especially in the Great Lakes region because of Uganda’s proximity to the neighbouring markets of DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.
Uganda had delayed to join the FTA because of revenue considerations like taxes levied on imports, but experts said the benefits from accessing a free trade area under COMESA are bigger.
“Besides, we are now moving towards consolidating domestic taxes,” said a senior trade official. The 15 COMESA FTA states are Uganda, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Mauritius, Comoros, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Djibouti, Madagascar, Mauritius and Malawi.
Trade minister Amelia Kyambadde last week said with the ascension to the 19-member trade bloc FTA, exports were expected to grow by an average of 50% annually.
“In the COMESA region, DRC is Uganda’s second largest market after South Sudan at over $350m larger than Kenya ($250m) and they are working to join in, which will mean more trade for Uganda),” said Silver Ojakol, a commissioner for external trade in the trade ministry