State in push to link over 300 SMEs with regional markets

PS Nominee Patrick Kilemi, MSME's PS Nominee Susan Mang'eni, Labour CS Simon Chelugui, Micro and Small Enterprises Authority (MSEA) CEO Henry Rithaa, MSEA Board Chairman James Mureu addressing the media during the launch of the National Organizing Committee for the 22nd EAC MSME Exhibition and Trade Fair at NSSF building in Nairobi on November 25th, 2022. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

More than 300 small businesses stand to access regional markets, thanks to a government initiative aimed at linking them to new opportunities.

The Micro and Small Enterprises Authority (MSEA) is targeting 350 Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to take part in the 22nd East African Community (EAC) trade fair and exhibition planned for December 8-18, this year, in Kampala, Uganda.

Interested entities can apply for the available slots through MSEA's regional offices or on its website. The deadline is December 1, 2022.

The authority's data shows the trade fair themed, 'Buy East African to Build East Africa for Resilience and Sustainable Development' has so far facilitated more than 5,000 small businesses across the country.

Cooperatives and SME Development Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui, speaking at the launch of the application process in Nairobi on Friday noted that the regional event is critical to the State's long-term ambition to grow the country's exports not only to the EAC but also to the now operational African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

"Over the past five years, the volume of Kenyan exports to the EAC region has amounted to more than $1.4 billion (Sh170 billion)," he said.

"The National Export Development and Promotion Strategy envisions to increase this by ensuring that 60 per cent of Kenya's manufactured products will be exported to the regional and global markets."

The CS noted that Kenya stands to gain from EAC's expanded market size of 300 million people and GDP of about $250 billion (Sh30.5 trillion) as a result of the recent admission of the Democratic Republic of Congo into the EAC.

MSEA Director General Henry Rithaa said Kenya's involvement in the annual 10-day fair is motivated by the continuous need to link micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) with markets in the region.

"The authority is confident that this event will give an ideal platform for promoting diversified Kenyan brands, testing newly created technologies, and improving Kenya's business presence in Uganda and neighbouring countries," said Mr Rithaa added.

He said all applicants will undergo rigorous vetting by the multi-sectoral national organising committee. "This is to ensure that the image of Kenya is well represented through high-quality products and services." Despite the EAC being a big market, only 12 per cent of the business is traded within the market compared to other blocs like the European Union (EU) that trade between 60 per cent and 70 per cent.

The EAC Secretariat recently launched a Sh1.3 trillion revolving fund targeting micro small and medium enterprises in the region.

The programme, which is a partnership with Equity Bank Group and the MasterCard Foundation, seeks to also offer capacity building to traders within the regional bloc.

The Sh1.3 trillion funding portfolio is also contributed to by other 16 financing partners, including Africa Development Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, International Finance Corporation, and the Warren Buffet Foundation, among others.

It aims to spread risks, mitigate any business mortality, and cover non-performing loans.

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