Uganda and South Africa are moving closer to an agreement that would waive travel visas, with both countries’ private sectors urging their respective governments to work together in eliminating trade barriers.
The trade relationship between the two nations has faced challenges, with South Africa exporting goods valued in billions to Uganda, while Uganda’s exports to South Africa amount to a few hundred million dollars, according to available data.
Nomalungelo Gina, the Deputy Minister for Trade, Industry, and Economic Development, addressed the Uganda South Africa Trade and Investment Forum in Kampala, stating that South African exports to Uganda have seen a slight decline over the last five years, from $2.1 billion in 2018 to $1.7 billion in 2022. In contrast, Ugandan exports to South Africa increased from $102 million in 2008 to $304 million in 2022. She emphasized the need for significant improvements in bilateral trade to address this imbalance. Gina also highlighted the presence of over 57 South African companies operating in Uganda, expressing optimism for increased business exchanges between the two nations.
Earlier this year, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa raised concerns about the decline in his country’s investments in Uganda. A subsequent study identified factors such as logistics and transportation costs, Ugandan companies’ challenges in maintaining a consistent supply of raw materials, and unreliable internet services as hindrances to investments in Uganda.
Odrek Rwabwogo, Chairperson of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Exports and Industrial Development, called for the removal of bottlenecks obstructing the flow of investments between the two countries. He questioned why South Africa, a significant coffee consumer, continued to import the commodity from abroad while Uganda had abundant coffee resources. Rwabwogo also pointed out the delay in South Africa appointing a trade representative in Uganda to facilitate trade concerns.
Uganda has allocated $350 million to support trade and investment with South Africa, as revealed by Rwabwogo. Ebenezer Asante, Senior Vice President at MTN Group, commended the resilience of the private sector amidst economic challenges and urged the government to improve the business environment to benefit South African investments in Uganda.
South African investments in Uganda encompass various sectors, including commercial banking, telecommunications, broadcasting, manufacturing, and transportation.
Paul Amoru, Uganda’s High Commissioner to South Africa and southern African states, echoed the concerns of Ugandans and called for the speedy implementation of visa-free travel between the two countries. Approximately one million Ugandans currently reside in southern Africa, according to the embassy. Ambassador Amoru highlighted the importance of a comprehensive solution and expressed optimism that a plan would be communicated within a few months.
Responding to travel restriction concerns, Lulama Xinguana, South Africa’s High Commissioner to Kampala, assured that the absence of a travel visa agreement should not cause concern. She acknowledged that obtaining a visa for employment in South Africa could be challenging but clarified that it was different for businesspeople. Xinguana stated that visas for business purposes were readily granted to those with evidence of business intentions or investments. She also mentioned ongoing discussions between South African Department of Home Affairs officials and their Ugandan counterparts regarding visa requirements.
Xinguana assured Ugandans of South Africa’s readiness to import Ugandan coffee and agricultural products but emphasized the importance of meeting sanitary and phytosanitary requirements to ensure the health and safety of animals and plants.