Uganda must not rely on a single partner, says US envoy
Trade in goods between the United States and Uganda by sector
$ 000, USITC data, Annual and year-to-date
[Source: interview with US Ambassador to Uganda, Deborah Malac]
What is the role of the private sector?
We firmly believe that private sector growth is the key to sustainable economic growth.
Governments should not be the sole driver of economic activity because no government will ever have enough money to do everything.
The private sector plays a crucial role in economic growth and it is important that it takes the lead in all areas of economic activity.
What was the role of US in recent oil and gas investment?
We are quite pleased with the recent signing of the agreement between government and Albertine Graben Refinery Consortium which is a US-led initiative put together by a US company.
We believe this joint venture is a significant development that will lead to greater commercial opportunities from US companies and other international companies not just in oil and gas sector but also other areas as well. From our perspective it is critically important for a country not to be dependent on one partner or investor.
Diversification of investors and investment activities is critical.
The refinery, as you know, has been a priority for government for several years since the discovery of oil. It will be a fully private sector financed. It is a joint venture between government and the private sector.
Why has US had this sudden interest in Uganda’s oil?
Our interest in growing commercial relationships is really not just about Uganda specifically.
It is continent wide thing. As African countries reach the middle income status, there are lots of opportunities for US businesses in many different sectors.Our interest is not new. Our Job is to try to promote US private sector investments in the country to which we are posted.
It is easier to do it in some places than others so we are always looking for those opportunities.
What are your thoughts on the economy?
As far as the state of the economy is concerned we share the same concerns as people who look at the economic landscape.
Certainly, the last couple of years have been tough for different reasons such as the effect of the drought, the disruption in trade with South Sudan, global issues and decreasing government revenues.
However, we share the same optimism with the International Monetary Fund, Bank of Uganda and others that have indicated that there are expected improvements in the short term.
The reality is, there is need for some hard work to improve from the current 3 per cent growth.
A lot of things, some of which are within government’s control, must happen if we are going t achieve desired growth.
You been involved in promoting Uganda’ coffee. What is your goal?
We want to promote access for Ugandan coffee, especially in the US market. Uganda is the largest coffee exporter in Africa and certainly coffee is the country’s largest revenue earner. However, only about
3 per cent of that coffee ends up on the US.
We have something we call reverse trade mission. In this, we bring producers into contact with the market to help them understand how they can market their products in the US.
However, this also offers our equipment manufacturers an opportunity to sell their equipment and also to offer expertise and potential joint ventures.
Opportunities in the health sector
We are actively working to identify business opportunities for US companies with interest in the health sector which you know is a large area. We do a lot of work in the health sector here in Uganda and we also believe there is more that private sector can do to help relieve government some of the burden.
We have a couple of companies that are well advanced in searching for opportunities where they can help to improve service delivery, especially in the health sector.
Why has Agoa failed to yield required results and what does this mean for the textile industry?
I cannot quantify the exact impact of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) for Africa as a whole. I do not readily have that data but I can tell you it has provided tremendous market access for countries that have taken the advantage.
The sad point is that Uganda hasn’t taken full advantage of the benefits enjoyed under Agoa.
And as part of our efforts, we are working with government and the private sector to identify manufacturers who are at the point where they can start to take advantage of Agoa and see how we can help them because there is a lot of benefits.
What can Uganda do to increase its exports to the US?
Obviously, Uganda is a smaller economy, although this doesn’t mean it cannot be a bigger economy than it is currently.
In reality, US is a much larger market but that doesn’t mean that Uganda cannot take a large share of her products to the US market and therefore reduce the trade imbalance between the two countries.
Areas of opportunities, I think are in agricultural sector and not just with coffee. The bigger issue is to be able to find markets and identify your niche as a country.