By Benson Kathuri
Exporters from the East African Community (EAC) are yet to take advantage of numerous opportunities in the US.
Arusha-based East African Business Council (EABC) said the private sector has not fully benefited from trade with the US under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (Agoa); almost 10 years after the US Congress passed the act.
Agoa provides duty and quota free market access to over 6,000 different products but regional exporters have only managed to develop and export 20 products, with textile and apparel taking the big chunk.
EABC Executive Officer Charles Mbogori said businesses had traditionally focused on Europe and Asian markets and were still ill-informed about the US market, its nature, and its business environment.
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Speaking at the just concluded EAC preparatory meeting for the 8th Sub-Saharan Agoa forum to be held in Nairobi in August, Mbogori also attributed the poor performance to the high cost of doing business.
The distance between EAC and US further worsens the situation. There are no direct flights from the region to the world largest economy and the much-published maiden flight by Delta airlines early this month was suspended at the eleventh hour.
"East Africa region has some of the highest energy, and transport costs in the world," he said.
"This makes it difficult for firms in East Africa to compete with those in Asia and Latin America."
Countries like Mauritius, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, Nigeria and Kenya are just a few of the countries that have benefit substantially from Agoa.