The UK-Uganda Trade Summit went ahead on Saturday 10th September under difficult circumstances. The event sought to further cement greater economic ties between the UK and Uganda. While Uganda does punch above its weight in comparison with other larger African economies with regards to fostering trade and investment with and from the UK, much work has still to be done to make these ambitions a reality.

The event proceeded during a challenging period, two days after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II and as a mark of respect, senior government officials, including Ugandan President HE Yoweri Kaguta Museveni chose not to participate in the event, however as a credit to the organisers, the panel discussions were still insightful and informative with valuable input from private sector actors and essentially if UK-Uganda trade and investment is to further increase, the private sector needs to drive this over and above any government intervention from either side.

That is not to say that the two governments can simply spectate from the sidelines and watch trade and investment grow and enjoy the benefits without any intervention at all. Engineer Ronald Kibuuka, Executive Assistant to the Chief Coordinator for Uganda’s Operation Wealth Creation said, “we cannot do anything without the farmer. Economic growth and increase in international trade needs to be driven by agriculture.”

Kibuuka’s sentiments are backed up by statistics. Pre-COVID economic growth figures (averaging 6.3% over the past 30 years) were mostly driven by value added activities in the agriculture sector. 72% of Uganda’s land is made up of agricultural areas and four out of five of Uganda’s top exports are agricultural or agro-processed products. 

Uganda’s exports are growing by 17% annually, but if these exports are to grow further by leveraging the strong bilateral relationships between Uganda and the UK and tapping into the UK export market, this is where the two governments can intervene. 

One noticeable theme made by many delegates in private discussions were that their samples for display at the Trade Summit did not make it into the UK due to concerns surrounding paperwork and phytosanitary issues.

Feedback that we as East African Solutions have received from various exporters across East Africa is that exporting to the UK has become more challenging since Brexit. From the UK perspective, one of the main Brexit benefits was that it was to develop the UK to being a greater economic player on the global stage and opening up wider trade and investment opportunities beyond the traditional ties with the European Union.

If the UK genuinely wants to make this a reality, greater cooperation needs to be had, particularly with developing Commonwealth countries with regards to helping exporters and government bodies involved with the facilitation and regulation of exports to better understand UK import requirements to increase the ease of doing business with the UK post-Brexit.

Uganda has a goal of doubling its agricultural exports over the next seven years and the UK could be a major export market. However, this trade is not likely to be only one way. An increase in Ugandan exports to the UK also means greater opportunities for UK producers of agricultural inputs and machinery to sell to or even invest directly into Uganda.

Other parts of the summit focused on the number of large new infrastructure projects which will help to further stimulate intra-regional and international trade with Uganda, opportunities arising in Uganda’s burgeoning oil and gas sector, fintech, manufacturing and solving Uganda’s significant housing deficit.

It was noted that Ugandans were among the most successful immigrant groups in the UK and many were interested in contributing back to Uganda’s economic growth and it was highlighted by many panellists that the returns on investment to be earned from investing in Uganda were likely to be significantly higher than equivalent investments in the UK.

Amin Mawji OBE, the Diplomatic Representative for the Aga Khan Development Network, “I have two mothers – the Uganda where I was born and the UK where I moved to and made an impact with my life, but I have to look to both. Uganda will always be a home to me and many others in the Ugandan diaspora feel the same way.”

Overall, despite the reduced participation looking at the circumstances surrounding the event, it was a success and highlighted ways in which the two governments, the private sector in both countries as well as the Ugandan diaspora in the UK can all contribute to enhanced cooperation, trade and investment and growth of both economies.

The writer, Ray Willbern is the Managing Director of East African Solutions, an award winning UK and East African based consulting firm helping to develop new projects in East Africa and opening up supply chains and export channels in the region. | The views expressed in this article are of the writer.

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