TradeMark East Africa Business Environment Director, Waturi Matu, on facilitating trade in East Africa

Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has referred to Africa’s first World Trade Organization (WTO) event held in Kenya as historic and crucial, which he suggests will act as a solution to the alleviation of poverty on the continent. The trade symposium, which ends today, focuses on trade facilitation and that is where TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) comes in as the body is a key trade facilitator in the region.

The organization was established in 2010 and it also works closely with the Trade and Development Symposium (TDS) which was held at the same time as the WTO conference this week. During the four-day symposium, TMEA was actively involved in highlighting practical steps to help unravel the bureaucratic and procedural snags to ensure quicker, smoother and cheaper trade between the countries in East Africa.

Waturi Matu is the Director, Business Environment at TMEA and her focus is on policy and regulation, where she engages governments and partners, enabling both parties through research and information as well as providing insight on environmental issues. Ventures Africa had a chat with her to provide more insight on what TMEA does and to highlight the ways it has and continues to influence better trade agreements in East Africa.

Ventures Africa (VA). The International Trade Centre (ITC) and the East African Community (EAC) just announced that both organizations will launch a joint project – Trade and Regional Integration Project (TRIP)– to foster better economic integration. How does this tie in to what the TMEA is trying to achieve?

Waturi Matu (WM). I would say the goals are ultimately the same with the ongoing conversation surrounding this year’s trade and development symposium, which is to link trade policies with sustainable development for East Africans. TMEA is committed to ensuring tangible gains for the people. Trade is nothing without gain, there are ways not-for-profit agencies like ours can facilitate change in that regard. We are involved in real and physical solutions to trade challenges to help meet the goal of citizen participation in trade. For instance, we are adopting innovative new solutions such as technology that tracks cargo and helps revenue authorities to increase collections and reduce clearing times, to running capacity building exercises for women traders.

VA: During the Trade and Development Symposium (TDS), TMEA was slated to offer solutions to bottlenecks in trade. Although the organization was established in 2010, we are curious about the recent trade achievements of TMEA?

WM: TMEA has been actively involved in building infrastructure and facilitating partnerships between revenue authorities, the private sector and civil societies which, at the end of the day, reflect on the strength of public-private partnerships (PPPs). We have also found ways of increasing the efficiency of traders as well as the quality of available services, which can only be achieved by access to information.

More specifically, we have improved Yard 5, a container terminal at the port of Mombasa – which was previously unfit for human utilization. We rehabilitated, paved and modernized it, now it is one of the best ports in Africa with greater efficiency and a quicker turnaround of ships. With the recent additional funding from the Department for International Development (DFID), there will be the construction of the 2nd container terminal which involves the initial construction of three berths scheduled for completion by March 2016. The new berths have an additional capacity of 450,000 Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit (TEUs) with two further expansion phases running through to 2020.

On the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business October 2015 Index, Kenya was placed at position 108 out of 189 countries, making substantial improvement from the last ranking. TMEA indirectly influenced that possibility in the country, due to the fact that we influence policies at the regional and national level that tend to influence the smooth running of trade activities in East African countries. We have made it possible for the Kenya Private Sector Alliance to engage with government agencies and parliament to influence legislation to their advantage and both parties monitor one another and that helps to ease the process.

VA: Climate change has been a big part of media conversation ever since the Conference of Parties 21. Does TMEA, as a facilitator in east Africa, have any commitment or even concern for the environment as it tries to promote smoother trade in these countries?

WM: Climate change is something that affects us all and the East African Community (EAC) indicated its commitment to partner with the Conference of Parties 21 to ensure a safer environment for the poor and vulnerable in East Africa. On our part, we are already taking steps to improve the narrative. We partnered with the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) to initiate an elaborate Green Port Policy that will transform the port of Mombasa into a premier port of ‘clean fuels’ in Africa. Earlier this year, DFID and TMEA signed a £23m (KSH 3.5bn) grant agreement for the modernization work at the port of Mombasa. The funds are being used to improve infrastructure while addressing efficiency, speeding up import and export trade and minimizing negative environmental impact on the port.

VA: The ongoing World Trade Organization’s Ministerial Conference focuses on several areas of concern in terms of global solutions to trade systems. Poverty seems to be a challenge on the continent, how will the narrative be improved with regards to east Africa?

WM: Poverty is a major challenge for East Africa, hence the need for viable solutions to end it. A Development Initiatives report stated that about 9.7 million east Africans lived below the poverty line in 2013. Incorporation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is one way to facilitate participation of both government and the people, it would ease trade processes and will provide a platform for continuous conversation on trade, ensuring a better life for the vulnerable and the poor.

VA: I mentioned trade bottlenecks earlier, what are the challenges facing TMEA and what is the organization currently doing about it?

WM: Well, for every foreseeable challenge, we have provided or are providing a solution. For infrastructure, we have ongoing programmes to address the building or maintenance of infrastructural projects to aid trade boost. Although, some of these programmes may take a few years before they come to fruition, we already have the Mombasa to Kigali port as well as the Dock Workers Union who have been sponsored by TMEA to acquire efficiency skills at ports in Dubai, Chennai, Durban and Singapore.

Also, we are funding, via DFID money, the review of the KPA Act of 1978, which needs updating for modern times and an alignment to the best international practices. The Act will be incorporated to modern maritime practices in tandem with the Kenyan Constitution, 2010. The reviewed Act will seek to shield the port authority from political interference and patronage. It will also place the port at a vantage point in service provision. It will also address marine pollution within the harbor by setting up clear regulations and standards.

VA: Voice of America reported this morning that the South Sudan government has ordered the military to shoot down any planes or helicopters not known to the government. The country has been in crisis for a while now, how do situations like these affect smooth trade operations?

WM: It is a given that security issues will affect trade in any situation. As far as countries in conflict go, crisis often leads to delay in trade movement. On the other hand, when there are delays especially with everyday commodities, crisis and violence tends to be on the rise. So, trade to crisis ridden areas does not come to a ground halt as a result of ongoing events, it only slows down. Most times though, the situation is not nearly as bad as it is portrayed in the media, what the region needs is a positive outlook which will lead to a greater percentage of direct foreign investments in east Africa.

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