Ugandan exporters are crying over the business disruption caused by the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union alias Brexit as they were coming to terms with the effects of Covid-19.
The UK voted to leave the EU in 2016. While it officially left the trading bloc on January 31st, 2020 both sides agreed to keep many things the same until the end of the year to allow enough time to agree on the terms of a new trade deal.
The move gave the UK the freedom to negotiate its own trade deals with other countries and blocs, and set its own trade policies. However, the exit from the EU meant that the region will consider goods from other countries going to the UK as goods in transit and will treat them as so.
This includes tests for photo sanitary and other standards at different border checkpoints or airports. Uganda’s products have severally faced standards issues with the EU and other countries including neighbouring Kenya, amidst complaints that some countries use the word to deprive Uganda of trade opportunities.
The UK has insisted that Brexit gives it a chance to negotiate closer trade deals with African countries and that it will strengthen trade and economic relations. However, this is posing a challenge for countries like Uganda, which have to export their products through the EU to the UK and have to go through different custom procedures that came with it.
KK Fresh Foods and Products Exporters Ltd says it is becoming too costly to export to the UK, their otherwise biggest single market as the goods have to spend several days on the way, especially due to the customs checks through the EU. The Managing Director, KK Foods, James Kanyije says it would be easier if the UK had testing labs at its borders with the EU, but they do not.
KK usually export 1.7 tons of fresh foods to the EU, which included the UK, but they say that in 2020 they exported half of this because of the problems with transportation and a decline in the export market due to Covid-19. This, according to Kanyije, is further expected to fall to 400 kilograms amidst new COVID-19 restrictions as well as the implementation of the provisions of Brexit.
Since London instituted new anti-Covid-19 measures, flight connections between Europe and England have become very hard, leading to further delays.
The Ministry for Trade, Industry and Cooperatives has of recent been advising Ugandan exporters to first concentrate on the local and regional markets because there is demand for Ugandan products, and that it is easier to access.
However, Kanyike says the requirements for the international markets are also largely the same as those for the regional markets. He says that in some instances, it is actually easier to ship goods to Europe than to African countries, especially due to lack of a convenient transport system.
He urges the government of Uganda to build a cold chain so that Ugandans are able to keep their products fresh from the processors to the market, because the traders and farmers do not have that capital.
Operation Wealth Creation is one of the government agencies that has been involving in activities to boost agriculture production and productivity. Major Rubaramira Ruranga, the Director for Health at OWC admits that the problem is poor planning, where the country has put more effort in production without first working on the market and marketability of the products.