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There's need to shift focus from import to export trade

By The Standard | Published Thu, January 11th 2018 at 00:00, Updated January 10th 2018 at 22:52 GMT +3
Export cargo arrives at the port of Mombasa on board SGR freight train. [Photo/Standard

With the first delivery of cargo from Mombasa to Nairobi recently, positive stories continue to come out of Jubilee's flagship project that is the Standard Gauge Railway. SGR, as it is popularly known, will eventually replace the old metre gauge railway line built by Indian coolies in the late 1890s to early 1900.

The first phase of the construction between Mombasa and Nairobi was completed in June 2017 at a cost of Sh327 billion. The overall cost by the time the SGR reaches Malaba will be Sh1 trillion. In short, this is a loan that has to be repaid. Servicing this loan, and indeed any other, demands transformation of our economy from being import-oriented to export oriented. One of the ‘big four’ that President Uhuru has identified as key to moving the country forward is manufacturing, both for the local market and export.

Manufacturing can be stepped up, as China has demonstrated, if a country is able to access cheap labour, cheap capital besides lowering the cost of doing business that involves a lot of red tape, ending corruption and, above all, making its stability predictable. Incidents witnessed lately in the run up and after the August 8, 2017 general elections created fear. No doubt, uncertainty demotivates, for no one will invest in a country where all his investment could easily go up in smoke because of political feuding.

The Export Processing Zones need to be expanded as more incentives are given to spur production. Tourism has been touted as the country’s largest foreign exchange earner. Indeed, tourism, even as it is localised, falls under the ‘export’ classification since its largest consumers are foreign tourists who bring in the much needed dollar.

Most of our farm products go to waste for the simple reason little attention is paid to value addition to our agricultural products. Often-times, one would find rotten mangoes by the road side, yet squeezing juice out of them and packaging it would give it longer shelf life and guarantee returns for the farmer. Other perishable products could be dried, processed and stored to extend their life.

In addition to tea and coffee, once the Turkana oil fields are fully operational, exporting oil would do the economy a lot of good. If the SGR is used more for outbound transportation, repaying the loan used in its construction would be bearable.

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