Deputy President William Ruto has challenged the private sector to play their role effectively in accelerating trade among the East African Community (EAC) member countries.
Addressing members of the East African Business Council (EABC) at his Karen office, Nairobi on Tuesday, the Deputy President said the private sector should encourage business entities and partnerships across the EAC region instead of individual countries.
“There is need for us to encourage a situation where we should have companies with partners from the six EAC member countries. By doing this we will make our integration a reality,” said Mr Ruto.
“At the moment what we have is business silos that are based on individual countries and what we want to see is business companies with Tanzanian, Rwandan or Ugandan counterparts and vice versa,” he added.
By doing this, the Deputy President said the private sector would be able to push and influence policy when they work as regional and not individual entities.
Mr Ruto said governments in the region could create a conducive environment including improvement of infrastructure if the private sector took the lead by coming up with proposals aimed at accelerating the integration process.
He urged businesspeople in the EAC region to consider forming a strong company and one common market so as to have a better bargaining power in soliciting for tenders for mega projects.
“You will be better off when you present yourselves under companies bearing EAC symbol than your individual countries when competing for tenders to undertake mega projects within the region,” said Mr Ruto.
He said the current situation where each country had its own market does not augur well especially now that the integration process is being accelerated.
“We should have one common market that brings together all the six countries. This will give a true meaning of the EAC spirit,” said Mr Ruto.
Present were EABC chairman Econie Nijimbere, Cabinet Secretaries Phyllis Kandie (EAC Affairs), Adan Mohammed (Industrialization), Charles Keter (Energy), James Macharia (Transport), Joseph Nkaisery (Interior) and Henry Rotich (Treasury).
Others were EABC Director Lilian Awinja, Principal Secretaries Betty Maina (EAC)Karanja Kibicho (Interior) and Julius Korir (Trade).
On the request by China to be part of the Free Trade Area (FTA) with EAC, the Deputy President urged businesspeople in the region not to fear competition.
He said they should take advantage of Chinese request to engage in business activities in EAC by exploring trade opportunities in their country.
“Don’t fear the Chinese. Take advantage of the situation and negotiate with them what you can export to their country. I am sure you will gain a lot from such an arrangement,” said Mr Ruto.
He pointed out that the successful integration would require solid support from the private sector.
The Deputy President said there was need for regular dialogue with the private sector among other interested groups in a move to get their views and expectations on the various stages of regional integration.
Mr Ruto called for teamwork and unity in eliminating non-tariff barriers that have become stumbling block to the free flow of business within the EAC member countries.
“We should work together as EAC member countries to eliminate barriers that limit the citizens from enjoying the benefits of integration,” said Mr Ruto.
“It is time has come for EAC to collectively seek permanent solutions to the challenges facing citizens in the region,” he added.
Mr Nijimbere praised the role being played by Kenya in introducing various reforms to support the EAC business community.
He singled out the introduction of interstate pass and use of Identification Cards by EAC citizens, implementation of EAC single tourist visa and the abolishment of the railway development levy on goods originating from EAC partner states as some of the efforts spearheaded by Kenya.
“The services at the port of Mombasa have improved tremendously following the launch of the Mombasa Port Charter including development of berth 19, building of new terminal and developing lanes at gate 18,” said Mr Nijimbere.
He went on: “The reduced turn-around time for clearance of goods at the port and implementation of 24 hour service which serves to reduce the cost of doing business in the region is greatly appreciated.”
Mr Macharia said to reduce perennial congestion at the port of Mombasa, the Government has modernized Mariakani and Athi River and Gilgil weighbridges to ease movement of cargo through the Northern Corridor to the East African countries.
“Modernization of the weighbridges will not only reduce congestion but also enable goods to reach their destinations within the stipulated time frame,” said Mr Macharia.