Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) from the East African Community member States have been encouraged to be innovative to remain competitive.
This emerged during the 19th EAC Juakali/Nguvu Kazi Exhibition in Eldoret where over 1,500 SMEs from the six East African Community member States showcased their products.
The exhibition aimed at promoting intra-regional trade which is currently below 20 per cent in the region. This, is a dismal performance compared to the South African Development Community where intra-regional trade stood at 46 per cent in 2017.
Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto who graced the exhibition said: "We are enhancing regional market linkages, promoting a simplified trade regime to facilitate cross border trade among Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.
During the opening ceremony of the ten-day exhibition, Cabinet Secretary Industrialisation, Trade and Cooperatives, Peter Munya said the fair provided a platform for enhancing marketing linkages between traders from different corners of the East African region to build new markets, learn new skills and explore new distribution channels.
“We have in place an elaborate training and capacity building programme for the SMEs,” said Mr Munya.
The Juakali Nguvu Kazi exhibition is one of the several initiatives organised by the EAC to strengthen regional integration. The exhibition seeks to improve cross border trade which has received support from German Development Co-operation (GIZ).
Ms Kirsten Focken, GIZ Cluster Coordinator in charge of EAC integration programme said the exhibition created a firm foundation for SMEs to explore new markets, exchange information and address market knowledge gaps that continue to hinder their growth.
“SMEs are highly innovative and are expected to be the biggest beneficiaries if EAC policies and laws are implemented to allow free trade in the region. They account for over 85 per cent of employment creation in EAC region and have contributed to the establishment of a new middle class that is fuelling demand for quality goods and services,” said Dr Focken.
Dr Focken added that E-commerce and technology could accelerate SMEs’ access to international and regional markets.
EAC Director General, Customs and Trade, Kenneth Bagamuhunda said the EAC was keen on developing favourable policies to the growth of the informal sector. He said that the sector had proved to be the engine for economic growth for middle and low income countries.
“SMEs are the incubators of industrial growth and women contribute a large percentage of cross border traders” said Mr Bagamuhunda.
The participants also took part in a capacity building session that targeted to empower them with knowledge, skills and attitudinal change needed for the growth of the informal sector.
The training covered EAC rules, cross border trade laws, product value addition, quality assurance and new opportunities presented by the integration of South Sudan.