Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania top trade complaints at WTO

(This is a transcript of the podcast posted on Monday, May 31st 2021. You can listen to the podcast by clicking on this link: https://open.spotify.com/episode/5Fywfw2gGqK3VK72Zu3Jof?si=cF9tgqY0Q5Kh_6964ZoIGA&nd=1)

Welcome to The Weekly Beat by Mansa with your hosts, Arnold Segawa, Maggie Mutesi, and Dumi Jere. Giving you all the info on Africa’s big finance and economic stories, The Weekly Beat by Mansa.

ARNOLD SEGAWA: Greetings and welcome to this particular edition of Mansa’s The Weekly Beat. As always I’m your host Arnold Segawa, with my other co-hosts are Dumi Jere and Maggie Mutesi. And today we do have a guest with us Damali Ssali, she’s a regional trade development expert. I want to say regional, but I guess she does cover much of Sub-Saharan Africa. Greetings to all of you. Let me start with you Maggie. How are you doing today?

MAGGIE MUTESI: I’m doing great. Thank you so much, Arnold. I’m excited that we’re having a second woman today.

ARNOLD SEGAWA: Damali, good to have you on.

DAMALI SSALI: Thanks you so much Arnold and Maggie, whoa, what a welcome. Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

ARNOLD SEGAWA: Dumi, how are you keeping today? How’s the week been?

DUMI JERE: I’m fantastic. I’m fantastic. And you should actually say congratulations to Chelsea for winning the UEFA Champions League.

ARNOLD SEGAWA: Although I hurt, there is a congratulations to Ngolo Kante, someone who in 2014 was playing it in a little known what, the second, third division of the French leagues. And he’s gone on to win the World Cup. He’s gone on to… He’s a real juggernaut and just exemplifies each and everything that sport should be if you work hard and put in the time, but today’s theme is not Chelsea football club. Today, we actually are looking at trade. Just the other week the WTO, that’s the World Trade Organization, members they actually released their reports and it went on to show that WTO members submitted more than 3000 notifications. This is about product requirements for traded goods in line with Technical Barriers to Trade committees. This has been going on since 1995.

The number of notifications actually submitted to this particular committee has grown by an average of 11% per year. And it’s quite interesting there’s notifications, it’s like being in class back when were in primary school and there was always someone who’s complaining. One of the biggest complainants, should I say regional wise is the East African region, specifically Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda always bickering. Hey, it’s only fair that we first hear from the two women to just give us their thoughts on this. Dumi, I’ll come back to you later. Let me start with Damali first. Your thoughts on all these notifications and the East African Community taking a huge bunch of them.

DAMALI SSALI: Yeah, I read the report and I was surprised and not surprised, surprised at how prolific we are as East Africans in notifying the WTO, that we are really good. We appear to be really good at doing that, but not surprised because I know we’ve been having a lot of interviews and TBTs amongst each other. Tanzania has been having issues with Uganda’s sugar. South Sudan, our truck drivers, Ugandan truck drivers when they, I think two or three of them were killed in South Sudan. Kenya has been having ongoing issues with Uganda with dairy, chicken, and most recently maize. And then Rwanda for the last two years, I’m not so sure what Rwanda and Uganda have been having but for some reason Ugandan goods cannot enter the Rwandese territory.

So not surprised that there are very many notifications from the East African community, but surprised at how prolific we are at notifying. And I would have wished that we were as prolific in trying to sort them out on a bilateral level as we are in notifying.

I think that may be more helpful because the notification in itself it’s good. Yeah, you report and we know exactly what the issues are, but it’s even better when there is a resolution and the notification itself doesn’t lead to a resolution, it’s more engagement and discussions that leads to resolutions. And for me, it also bothers me what does this mean for the AfCFTA?

If we are reporting each other to this extent which indicates or implies that there are so many problems, what implications does this have for the AfCFTA where we were supposed to be trading more with each other, but most importantly, also with non EAC countries like the DRC, for Uganda, the DRC, which is soon, hopefully soon way to be joining the EAC?

But even then you wonder, even if the Democratic Republic of Congo joins the EAC, the EAC itself which has been together for a while is having so many problems with itself. The different countries are having problems with each other. What difference will that make?

But then on the other hand, I’m also wondering because I was looking at the report and, yes, the EAC is reporting the most, but also we have to be cognizant of the fact that the East African Community year-on-year has been reported as the most integrative block on the continent. I’m wondering that maybe because we are so integrated, we are so advanced that we would notify that much. Maybe the other blocks are just not notifying, not that they don’t have problems.

It could be that they just aren’t notifying, that’s the number one argument or the other argument could also be that they’re not notifying because maybe they dealing with their issues, resolving them themselves instead of going to an external arbiter which ideally that’s the best, really, that will be the best way to resolve issues is to really resolve bilaterally rather than be more prolific in notifying rather than really dealing with the matters.

ARNOLD SEGAWA: Yeah. Dumi, your thoughts on that? Damily has just unpacked quite a number of issues. Just give me your first reaction to this.

DUMI JERE: I think she took a point that I was about to make around how the East African Community is always regarded as the one that is more integrated in terms of doing trade with each other, as well as ease of movement, tourism perspective and all of that. But then you hear all of these notifications against the member countries, and then you end up, “Mmmh is it a facade? Is someone pulling a fast one on us?” But yeah, notwithstanding that I think it shows that there’s a lot of activity. I think that’s one way to look at it and that’s really positive.

The member states from East Africa they could be doing all of this in an effort to drive transparency by making all of these things come out to the fall. And so I think good and positive as well as bad. But we choose to focus on the positive as always us on this show. Well, I’ll speak for myself. Yeah.

ARNOLD SEGAWA: Maggie, is this in your view a sign that maybe the WTO is relevant? I remember a few episodes back I did say its way go to retire.

MAGGIE MUTESI: You’re quoting yourself you know that. But that’s from my last episode. The East African Community, I usually keep saying we might be the privileged children, the privileged block that we don’t really realize there’s so much progress. And I think when you’re used to this kind of transformation and then you see steps being taken back, there’s that sense of accountability.

I understand when Damali says, we’ve been used to this kind of transformation and now when there is that gap we tend to want to know or notify all of this. There are lots of blocks, of course, the ECOWAS, that are still really struggling. And sometimes when we do stories and we look at the progress the EAC has made, it could be endless. But again, I think the fact that we’ve got to this level, maybe there is a chance that the WTO actually could resolve our things, Arnold, which brings me back to your previous comments in a couple of episodes ago, there might be a chance that the WTO could change a few things, for example, what we’re seeing of these notifications.

Those kinds of checks and balances I would say are really good. So there isn’t a progress made and these steps are taken backwards. There has to be some bit of our contribution to what really happened. And this actually should be done with the AfCFTA as well.

ARNOLD SEGAWA: I’ve always had issues with the WTO because it’s kind of a Zondo Commission, if I’m to use the South African example, where you just set up a commission and people line up and some people say, “Oh, me, I’m not appearing,” like former President Jacob Zuma. But the example that I always use for the WTO is the fake Range Rover, you know, the Landwind, which is made in China. It looks just like a Range Rover, even the name the Landwind has the same font that the Range Rover would have.

And it’s quite baffling that the WTO does not take heavy rulings on some of these, and putting this in mind, when you go to the WTO website and you see the European Union taking the complainant being Malaysia, there’s a list, there’s Costa Rica and Panama.

There’s China and Australia. There’s so many of these they’re just littered across the website. And the question then remains are these particularly enforceable. If someone goes out there and reports to the class teacher, but something else I wanted to bring Damali in for is the issue around intra-Africa trade, which has always been down. And I’m now sitting on the fence because if East Africa Community alone accounts for 26% of all the notifications submitted in 2020 and intra-Africa trade is still below 15-16% are we spending more time actually bickering and reporting ourselves?

Well, each other to our overlords in Switzerland, or is this actually a sign that there’s light at the end of the tunnel and we actually want to resolve some of this stuff? You did mention the issue around more bilateral talk, but you can see where I’m struggling with this stable here. It’s like so many moving parts at one time. Damali?

DAMALI SSALI: Yeah, I have the same questions about intra-Africa trade, especially the implications of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area. I’m of this view that being in a regional economic block is kind of like a long-term relationship. So if every time you have a little fight you go to court or you bring the lawyers in to arbitrate, that long-term relationship won’t be sustained. So that’s why I usually advocate for bilateral engagements and discussions.

And we’ve seen this in the EAC. I remember when the EAC three or four years ago when it was looking at the single customs territory, where we got Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda to do the taxation by destination when the goods arrive in Mombasa, it worked really well, but you know what drove that? It was the political will. It was the relationships, it was the bilateral engagements. It wasn’t an outside arbitrator imposing or dictating. The relationship is consensual.

So the discussions have to be bilateral. And we saw with the single customs territory it worked really well, the discussions went ahead. The problems that I see now is that they’re also very much attached to the people with the political will somehow because over the last, I think, two or three years we’ve been in elections, each one EAC country has been in an election or the other, and the ball has been off EAC trade and more into the incumbents or the political players trying to see that they were elected, which, of course, it’s expected last year the number one priority when elections come around.

I’m hoping that now that that thing is over, the elections are almost done with in almost every country, that we can get back now to actually discussing trade. And I saw a little bit of that when President Museveni was being confound that as president, we saw almost all the countries surrounding Uganda, East African countries, Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, DRC, Burundi, of course Rwanda didn’t come, but those other four came, and there were several discussions out of that particular engagement.

And we saw Uganda and Kenya now agreeing to upgrade the meter gauge so that it can come from Kenya through Uganda to the DRC. And then we’ve seen the oil agreement signed with Tanzania. It has also helped. It appears that the new Tanzanian president, a lady, seems to be very much interested in engaging-

MAGGIE MUTESI: But in a stunt trade because they began trade in Africa. The strides being made by the female president of Tanzania I think are evident. And that’s why for me, it’s quite exciting. I just wanted to add that on. Sorry to cut you short.

DAMALI SSALI: And I totally agree with you. In just a few months that she has been there you could see she’s traveled to Kenya. She’s probably done it twice. She’s really engaging and opening up much more in a way that we haven’t seen Tanzania open up as much. I like that. And then the Burundi president when he was here they agreed to work with Uganda to do a road with the DRC.

So I feel like the political will is coming back, but it’s mostly a factor of the politics in the individual countries having been put out after the election. So I’m a little bit of dualistic about that. I am of the view also that trade related issues on the African continent in the original blocs, the EAC, COMESA, ECOWAS, have to be sorted out by the individuals in those countries. That’s the best way to sort it out.

You can’t bring in the court, i.e., the WTO to arbitrate on every little matter because then that isn’t a relationship. I go back to that long-term relationship. If you have to go have to go to court and bring in the lawyers every time you have a little fight, then it’s just not working and then we’ll be able to train them. So it has to be individual based. We, Africans, have to sort out the African issues in our African ways if we really wanted to work, otherwise, you can’t always be bringing in from the outside to coordinate you guys from within, it’s just not sustainable.

ARNOLD SEGAWA: And of course they do cost an arm and a leg to bring in those very expensive lawyers. You can just tell from their fancy suits, guys who are really running heavy. Your final 2 cent vis-a-vis investment. I’m going to start with you Dumi, throw over to Maggie and then I think Damali you’ll wrap it up, but vis-a-vis investment is this actually a sign that people are actually talking because some regional blocks just go on Twitter?

We know a former president who just used to do all this bickering on Twitter. Is this a sign that much there’s problems people want to sort them out and show that we want to progress with a fair referee? Give me a sense of what you see that having for the region’s investment outlook, Dumi.

DUMI JERE: I think for me, the free trade that Africa represents, I mean, at the end of the day it’s a decisive step towards the continent’s long-held regional integration aspiration. No one is going to come out of poverty on their own in terms of the countries. So increase in traffic in trade between the member states, I think that’s what is going to drive the economic development post COVID-19. So the start of this free trading rekindles hope in the post pandemic recovery.

So I think, yes, people are beginning to talk and they are talking to one another. There just needs to be more momentum that continues on the AfCFTA. With that I think we’re going to see more investment, more developments on the continent, at the end of the day we are not going to get another opportunity to integrate as a continent. And I think this is our absolute last opportunity. So working together is the only way that all the countries can come out of this.

ARNOLD SEGAWA: Okay. Damali?

DAMALI SSALI: Yes, I think on investment East Africa is well positioned, generally the African continent is well poised to have heavy investments in the next coming years especially given the optimism we have around the AfCFTA. Of course it will be dictated by how fast or how efficient we are moving implementing the AfCFTA. I would like to look at these EAC notifications to the WTO, 26%, but as a positive, maybe it shows transparency and openness. And the fact that it could show that we are much more advanced and therefore we are putting more. So I’m more optimistic about our future and our integration than I was before, but I still emphasize that we need to sort out our problems ourselves rather than going to the arbitrator. Thanks.

ARNOLD SEGAWA: Okay. Thanks for that guys. Many thanks to as always my co-hosts Maggie Mutesi, Dumi Jere and our trade expert this time round, Damali Ssali, joining us from Uganda. If you missed anything in the course of the week, you can always visit the website that’s mansamedia.africa, also on Twitter to keep in touch and stay in touch with everything that’s transpiring on the continent, all the movers and shakers, just start check out @mansa_media. I’m Arnold Segawa, thank you very much for listening. Have a lovely one.

The Weekly Beat by Mansa with your hosts Arnold Segawa and Maggie Mutesi and Dumi Jere, giving you all the info on Africa’s big finance and economic stories, The Weekly Beat by Mansa.

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