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Kenyan Thread Firm Seals Licensing Deal

Published date:
Thursday, 15 January 2004

Interview with Uganda's Minister Muhwezi on the country's challenges relating to AGOA.

QUESTION: Your office is now one year old. Anything to write home about?

A: It has been a good and challenging year. We started at the time when a conference on competitiveness was held in Kampala. That is where the President met Kumar (Dewapura), the owner of Tri- Star Sri Lanka. He invited him to start a garment factory here. We helped the investor to establish the factory. This was a success because we were able to export textile exports to the US for the first time since AGOA came into being in 2000. But the recruitment and training of the over 1,000 girls was challenging because it was not easy to get equal number of girls from the 56 districts. Also recruiting people who had no knowledge in sewing and making garments for the export market itself was a challenge. I am proud to be associated with the project. But everyone was pessimistic about the possibility that Uganda could export to the US. I can tell you that even with the strike at Tri-Star, I saw it in a positive way because if we didn't have a factory in the first place, there would be nobody to strike. But we had the girls demanding for their rights though I didn't agree with their methods. These are things every country goes through. The truth is Tri-Star is working because they have introduced Ugandan-made products onto the US market.

Q: What happened to the Gum Arabic samples taken to the US for tests?

A: The good news is that our Gum Arabic passed the functionality test. We are now negotiating with consultants; the Coca-Cola Company who did the feasibility study to see how the project takes off. It is a five-year project. The lab will be built to clean the gum and people trained. There will be collecting centres, gazetting of trees and possible addition of value before export. It needs a lot of money. But there is great support from the President.We shall also apply for funding from USAID. It is great news for Karamoja region.

Q: And the Sesame seed samples also taken to the US for testing?

A: I went to Chicago where the tests were done. It was found that our seeds were a bit small. They wanted the white big-sized seeds which is in some parts of the north. But the quantity isn't enough. The Chicago people are ready to take up whatever we produce. But we need some cleaning equipment to make it the right quality. There is market, all we need is to grow the right variety. Our work is to identify the market.

Q: You talk a lot about organic products. Any development?

A: I am celebrating that one of the people I took to Washington for an organic show has opened up a multimillion dollar state-of-the-art bee processing factory in Arua district. She (Maria Odido) is processing honey right from the collection process. It is one of my greatest achievements. I wish her every success. I hope people support her for the benefits of farmers. I am happy with the location of the factory because that is when AGOA becomes a reality because of the trickledown effect. It has been a year for discovery of what to export, who to help and what to do. We have learnt that AGOA is a good opportunity. We have gained a lot. We have revamped our industries. We now have experience to tap into other markets. I also found out that sometimes our private sector doesn't focus and concentrate. If you are a vanilla farmer, make sure you stay there. Don't rush because they say fish fetches a lot of money. Uganda doesn't have commercial farmers. This is a challenge. We still have a problem of consistent supplies. You get a- constant 40 tonnes of sesame seeds market in the US, but this is sometimes a problem with us. We also need to improve on our quality and packaging. I support organic products because of the niche market, security on returns on investment and the premium prices they fetch. It has been a challenging year, but at least AGOA has been known as a reality. We have at least created awareness that there is an AGOA opportunity given to Ugandans. We have created jobs. There are over 2400 people employed by Tri-Star, Phenix and Southern Nyanza. The President is willing to help anybody who wants to export to the US, bring forex and create jobs. This year won't be for learning but for reaping the fruits and putting to use we have learnt. We will begin to overcome the challenges.

Q: What is the export market future like?

A: We need to attract more foreign investors. I will double my efforts this year to be able to send more value added exports to US, Europe and Asia all of whom have opened up their markets. My main focus this year will be to have a spinning mill for our cotton which is so far the best in the world.We should export value added products.

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