UGANDA’S DORIS AKOL SHINES AS AU CUSTOMS MEETING CLOSES
By Mulengera Reporters
Represented by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, President Museveni today Thursday gave his views about the AU efforts to create the African Continent Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
During the formal opening ceremony of the 11th AU Annual Conference for Directors/Commissioners General for Customs authorities from 55 African countries at Speke Resort Munyonyo, Museveni saluted Uganda’s own URA boss Doris Akol for organizing such an eventful conference and for bringing together her peers from the entire continent.
The revenue collection bosses and heads of customs constitute a committee of experts that advises the African Union Commission and the 55 African presidents on matters to do with customs and revenue collection. They meet once a year to discuss topical issues and in last year’s case a similar meeting was held in Moron Comoros. Museveni commended the DGs for their efforts saying its only through AfCFTA that Africa will be able to harness the opportunities at its disposal to lucratively trade with itself, alleviate poverty, create wealth, improve living standards for its citizens and become globally competitive.
He enumerated these levers to include being home to 1.3bn people and having a combined GDP of $2.5trn. Museveni also said that being 30m square kms in size (still larger than US, China, EU & India combined), Africa has each and every reason to deepen trade relations among its member states and become a global economic power.
He said it’s shameful that a continent so vastly endowed has a combined wealth that makes it only 8th world’s richest block after India. He said through liberalizing the trade tariff regime, which was a major discussion at the Munyonyo conference that began on Monday, Africa will profitably trade among its 1.3bn people and produce wealthier citizens who the leaders can use to meaningfully attract FDIs to the continent.
Referencing on the EAC bloc, which he said had performed very well, Museveni said free and faster movement of people and goods will no doubt result into more wealth being created leading to better living standards for the people in line with AU’s Agenda 2063. The Ugandan big man added that the EAC bloc experience had even enabled member states to carry out joint infrastructure projects and enjoy economies of scale.
He thanked the DGs for prioritizing discussions around the non-tariff barriers which too he said have been constraining trade. He said overcoming such barriers, like red tape bureaucratic delays and reliance on manual systems, would lower the cost of doing business and increase the continent’s attractiveness as a center for business.
He looked forward to the AfCFTA, which is becoming operational in July 2020, saying it will make it possible for highly skilled young people to move around freely and put their skills to adequately remunerated use. He said it was shameful that only 20% of African trade is between AU member countries largely because of infrastructure challenges making external markets easier to export to.
He said besides infrastructural problems, high taxes were constraining trade among African countries. He hoped that the Africa-wide agreement establishing African Continent Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)-which he and other Presidents signed onto last May-will decrease the tariff barriers/burden for businessmen trading within Africa by 80% and at the same time enhance the continent’s capacity to profitably export to the rest of the world.
“If we can do all the things committed to in the AfCFTA agreement, then I can comfortably say its time to rise up and change the future of the African continent,” Museveni concluded.
On his part, Rugunda thanked Akol for accurately and appropriately referencing on Kwame Nkrumah’s declaration many decades ago that for the newly acquired independence to make meaning for the African peoples, African leaders had to work for both economic and political integration of Africa as a disunited people would never make any sustainable progress.
Other speakers too commended the URA big lady for pulling off such a very eventful conference. On being called to the microphone by his governing council chairman Dickson Kateshumbwa, World Customs Organization Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya commended Akol for the “excellent organization and hospitality” her teams exhibited since guests began arriving over the weekend for the week long conference that ends tomorrow Friday.
He said African leaders shouldn’t lament about anything but instead leverage on the continent’s diversity to transform lives of their peoples. He also underscored the importance of integrity in the customs management and administration saying this would be key in realizing the AfCFTA objectives.
“I also thank the head of Customs in Uganda Commissioner General Doris Akol for looking after us so well since this Kampala conference began,” he said. Saying hosting this year’s DGs/CGs annual conference so well was consistent with the high standards Uganda’s URA has always epitomized in the WCO foras, Kunio recalled how Uganda equally made everyone proud in March last year when it hosted the global business operators conference and brought them together with the DGs/CGs—and it was actually Africa’s first time to host that coveted event.
The representative of the AU Commission on Trade and Industry thanked the CGs for having has honest discussions on how operationalization of AfCFTA effective July next year is going to affect realization of revenue collection targets in the respective AU countries.
This was in reference to the earlier speech in which Doris Akol highlighted apprehension resulting from states having to experience diminished revenue collections in order to make AfCFTA work as one of the challenges being anticipated in the operationalization phase.
Gratefully the CGs seemed unanimous that the eventual other benefits resulting from the free trade area will gradually offset and mitigate such revenue collection loss fears. The Customs Supremos also reflected on the painful reality that, with barely a year to operationalization, only 27 out of the 55 AU countries had so far ratified the AfCFTA relevant protocols. Whereas 54 have signed onto the agreement establishing AfCFTA, one country hasn’t yet done so and that’s Eritrea.
In her speech, Akol highlighted the initiatives URA has already been undertaking to show Uganda’s readiness to hit the ground running to ensure the world’s largest free trade area leverages on its numerous strengths and become a huge and respectable economic power on the global stage.
Referencing on the EAC bloc experience, Akol said some of the URA initiatives had resulted into so much convenience for the business people to the extent that (because of the single customs territory) transporting goods from Mombasa in Kenya to Kampala these days takes only four days compared to the 18 days it took a few years ago.
She warned fellow CGs to prepare for complex negotiations to get everybody on board as political bureaucrats won’t easily let go of the trade tariffs which remain the major source of revenue for many AU governments.
She blamed the fact that Africa trades more with the rest of the world than with itself on the “colonial era infrastructure” which she said was deliberately designed to constrain intra-Africa trade relations.
She also anticipated negativity from other major trading blocs like the US, China and the EU urging colleagues to prepare to surmount all manner of challenges to deliver the AfCFTA which she said was the only way to make the “AU Agenda 2063: the Africa we want” have practical meaning for the continent’s 1.3bn people.
“Colleagues I’m here to tell you that making AfCFTA work is the only opportunity we have as Commissioners General for the respective Customs authorities to strengthen the African position in the global trade,” Akol said in her Thursday speech at the start of the formal opening ceremony Rugunda presided over on behalf of the President. (For comments, call/text us on 0200900416 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).