Angelina Ngalula, the EABC chairperson, has lauded Equity Bank “for coming to the rescue with a nearly $6bn credit package for East African SMEs to revive their businesses.
She issued an appeal for SMEs to take up the credit opportunity, which is part of an ambitious roadmap to create a borderless East Africa to boost the trade cycle.
EABC had lately engaged the Equity Bank Group, with executive director Dr James Mwangi visiting Arusha to deliberate on how the EAC private sector can cooperate with the regional bank in spurring businesses.
EABC was seeking to engage other groups in the financial service industry to support the private sector, smarting from the effects of the pandemic, climate change and the ongoing conflict in Eastern Europe.
EABC was also working to engage the partner states on policy issues with a view to accelerating the removal of trade barriers to facilitate the seamless flow of goods and services trade in the region.
With seven partner states of Burundi, DR Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, the East African Community (EAC) is an emerging common market of nearly 300m people, with a combined GDP of about $305.3bn.
It offers crucial opportunities for business and investment, the lobby group leader noted, the first lady to steer the EABC as board chairperson, unveiling a package of steps to recoup business activity hobbled by the pandemic outbreak.
“Our immediate effort is to support business recovery from the worst of pandemic effects as part of a wider strategy to help East African economies grow by leaps and bounds, she stated.
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), she asserted.
Transport and logistics are also high on the EABC agenda, as a major challenge impacting the region in terms of trade costs, which experts deem to be extremely high.
“Transporting a container from Europe to Tanzania is cheaper than ferrying it to another East African country,” she said, pointing out that the road toll alone can cost up to 4m/- ($1,739) while a truck hauling goods to DRC from the port of Dar es Salaam takes up to 50 days to return.
“All these contribute to the high cost of doing business as well as of goods. We must work on these challenges,” she stated, noting similarly that for the EAC to be competitive the high transport and logistics costs must be addressed right away.
Another EABC priority is to ensure that ports, one stop border posts and inland container depots are efficient in terms of facilitating trade while taking up the issue of standards as well as sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements, as they are critical in facilitating trade across the region.
While standards are crucial in ensuring products meet quality benchmarks, they ought not to be used as a non-tariff barrier but for supporting the growth of intra-regional trade, she further noted.
The EABC leader underlined her intention to bring the various bureaus of standards together to enhance communication, bring standards requirements into harmony, by first ensuring conformity assessment and critical standards infrastructure.
She also praised the reopening of the Gatuna-Katuna border between Rwanda and Uganda, emphasizing that through public-private dialogue the region can achieve a win-win trade situation.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a game changer, she stated, noting the recent launching of the tripartite COMESA-SADC-EABC business council in Kigali.
The palaver is meant to address the daunting challenges of non-tariff barriers, standards and logistics, along with sharing vital trade-related information and trade finance, she added.