East Africa needs to remove barriers that are slowing free trade

Kampala has seen a large influx of Kenyan potatoes this season. A 90kg bag of Kenyan potatoes is retailing at just under $20, compared with almost double the price for varieties coming from southwestern Uganda.

The potato flood comes as Kenya and Uganda once again debate the market access for their manufacturers. On the streets of Kampala, consumers are mildly aware of the dispute but are opposed to the cheap Kenyan potatoes that are helping moderate the price of potatoes in their own market.

Trade barriers are a form of invisible tax which makes trade cumbersome, inefficient and expensive. At the end of the day economies perform below potential because enterprise is stifled and demand suppressed through exorbitant prices. As the EAC trading bloc expands west to the DR Congo, such measures will only become more rampant, driven by the fear of revenue leakages. Far from being a facilitator of smoother trade flows, initiatives such as electronic cargo tracking, can actually become impediments if they are not trusted and allowed to work.

Theeastafrican.co.ke explains that, to break the cycle, policy makers need to moderate their aversion to risk and pick the courage to experiment with what might be. They also need to embrace the notion of shared prosperity. Trading partners should appreciate that trading partners will only be of value if they have the purchasing power to facilitate their consumption.

Photo source: Dreamstime.com

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