There is need to harness the manufacturing sector to be the driving force behind growth of East African Community for sustainability, officials have said.
Speaking ahead of the EAC Manufacturing Business Summit and Exhibition, slated to begin in Kigali today, officials admitted that the role of manufacturing in regional GDP remain minimal, saying that much can be done to increase it.
According to the Executive Director of the East African Business Council (EABC), Lilian Awinja, the manufacturing sector currently contributes just 10 per cent to the bloc’s GDP.
“We can do better than that. Our manufacturing potential, if well harnessed; we are able to support the EAC economies much better. As the business community, we are happy that the governments are focusing on industrialisation but we expect it to be done with great depth,” she said.
Awinja said that industrialisation will create jobs in the region, grow and develop the economies.
“The problem is, we lack policies or deliberate reforms to spur growth in the sector. During the summit, we expect that there will be space for dialogue between the private sector and the governments or policy makers. And we are glad the government of Rwanda is taking this summit very seriously.”
Addressing reporters yesterday, François Kanimba, the minister for trade, industry and EAC affairs, said the turn-up of delegates for the summit is more than what was expected, saying this is a good sign many positives will come out of it.
At least 400 delegates had been registered for the summit by press time.
Issues to be addressed in the summit which is a follow up to that held in Kampala, Uganda, in 2015 include how best the region can market itself; identifying major investment opportunities as well as analysing the major challenges for regional manufacturers and how they can be addressed.
“Items on agenda include assessing the current status of industrialisation in east Africa. We will look to understand how the implementation of the East African Community Treaty is contributing to the facilitation of industrialisation in EAC,” Kanimba said.
The summit will also look at the success factors for manufacturers in the EAC, how to gain competitiveness in price and quality, how to deal with environmental concerns, and what can be done against counterfeits, illicit trade and intellectual property violations, among others.
Other matters on agenda include how to develop the requisite qualified labour force (industrial skills) and the role of the bloc’s Diaspora community.
The private sector and civil society have been calling on EAC partner states to adopt a regional policy on local content to boost the economic development of the region.
They argue that if a regional policy on local content is adopted, it would protect the region from exploitation, promote employment, improve people’s welfare and develop skills.
Awinja said the region must “produce what we consume and consume what we produce” and hopes that a regional local content policy can be developed in the short term.
This, she stressed, is important as it can add a lot of value to the region.
By a regional local content policy, Awinja said, partner states should be able to look at and market the bigger picture of the EAC.
“We are proud to say that we have a market of 160 million people in east Africa; we have a combined GDP of 150 billion dollars. So, any manufacturer or any potential investor coming to east Africa wants to access this big market but if you look at our manufacturing sector, the free circulation of goods is not done to a satisfactory level,” she said.
Awinja was pointing to the many bottlenecks, including non-tariff barriers, that continue to hamper regional trade. The business community is ready to support the bloc’s integration agenda but there are bottle necks, she said, noting that the three-day dialogues will leave a positive mark.
The cost of doing business – high costs of electricity, air transport, and others – Awinja said, must also be addressed at the highest levels of government in the region.
Christophe Bazivamo, the EAC deputy secretary-general for productive and social sectors, said the summit is an opportunity for the private sector to advocate for better reforms but it is also an opportunity for governments to engage the former so that they move towards better production.
Bazivamo added: “It is also an opportunity to create awareness on the opportunities available in our region because this is also a forum for investors from outside the community.”
The three-day summit will bring together members of the private sector from EAC partner states and beyond, potential investors, policymakers, among others.