, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 28 – The East African region should use its strategic location as leverage to improve its competitiveness in global markets, the region’s largest bloc said.
East African Community (EAC) Secretary General Ambassador Juma Mwapachu remarked on Tuesday that the EA geographical location provides an opportunity for investors in the economic bloc to exploit and become competitive.
“The East African Community occupies the most strategic place within this broader geographical space and therefore locating your investments in the region will provide you with the prospects to capture a bigger market within the COMESA and SADC (Southern African Development Community),” he said.
The EAC, which has a population of approximately 120 million people, has intensified initiatives aimed at promoting the region as a single trade and investment destination.
“Investment Promotion Agencies have been empowered through the recent formation of the EAC Committee on investment and trade which uses world class promotion strategies to brand the region as a destination of choice,” said the SG.
This is considered timely particularly as the region moves closer to having a fully fledged Customs Union in January 2010 which means that goods traded within it will not attract any customs duty.
A Common Market Protocol, which will facilitate the free movement of people, capital and labour, is also scheduled to be signed in November.
The EAC Gross Domestic Product averages five percent but experts believe that these countries have the potential to achieve a seven to 10 percent growth rate.
Amb Mwapachu spoke ahead of a three day EAC Investment conference scheduled to kick off in Nairobi on Wednesday under the banner ‘Invest in the EAC where challenges are opportunities’.
During the meeting, the second of its kind, the five member states will have the chance to showcase their investment opportunities, brainstorm on how to develop their infrastructure and add value to the region’s produce.
The conference, where more than 700 participants are expected, will also evaluate the progress made in trying to address barriers that hinder growth, since the inaugural meeting in Kigali, Rwanda last year.
At the media briefing, the private sector however voiced its concerns over the speed with which various EAC programs were being implemented.
Kenya Association of Manufactures Chief Executive Officer Betty Maina appealed to the states to eliminated red tape in the handling of these issues.
“There’s a lot of desire by East Africans to integration but we just want to see all these non tariff barriers removed,” she said in reference to road blocks, corruption and poor infrastructure which are among some of the challenges facing the region.