Obama says US will sign treaty to stimulate trade in East Africa

The US will sign a regional investment treaty with the East Africa Community as a tool to spur trade among member states, and also with America, President Barack Obama announced on Monday evening.

“We’ll negotiate a regional investment treaty with EAC. We’ll launch a new programme to facilitate trade,” Mr Obama said during an address to some 170 business leaders in Dar es Salaam. The meeting was part of his packed programme on the first day of his tour to Tanzania.

The US leader who flew out yesterday used the business forum to highlight his administration’s new policy on engagement with Africa, focusing more on private investments and partnerships as opposed to heavy reliance on federal aid.

The new treaty, he said, will focus on moving goods across borders faster and more cheaply. “We’ll work with the countries involved to modernise customs, move to a single efficient border crossing, reduce bottlenecks, cut the roadblocks that hold back the flow of goods to market,” Mr Obama said.

Business stakeholders have identified the same obstacles as impediments to regional integration under the EAC Common Market Protocol. Mr Obama hinted as much following a closed door meeting with 20 top executives of companies working in the region and Africa.

The suggested treaty will be a pillar of Obama’s “Trade Africa”, a plan he revealed at the same meeting. Its immediate goal is to raise EAC exports to the US by 40 per cent and cut container transit time in the region by 15 -30 per cent.

And President Obama challenged African governments to act against trade and investment obstacles, to speed up economic growth and tackle poverty. He cited state bureaucracy, corruption, poor governance and unpredictability in laws as some of the worst trade impediments.

“It still takes way too long, too many documents, too much bureaucracy, just to start a business, to build a new facility, to start exporting. No one should have to pay a bribe to start a business or ship their goods,.” he said.

“You should have to hire somebody’s cousin who doesn’t come to work just to get your job -- get your business done. You shouldn’t have to do that,” said the US President.

He pledged US support to countries that will demonstrate commitment to engage the private sector in meaningful opportunities that bring prosperity to more citizens.

He said US will sustain efforts to make its presence felt in Africa.

“I’m making this trip early in my second term, because I intend for this to be the beginning of a new level of economic engagement with Africa. So I’m announcing today that my new Commerce secretary Penny Pritzker will lead a major trade mission to Africa in her first year.”
Source: The Citizen, reported by Tom Mosoba in Dar es Salaam
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