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    Uganda's Services Coalition Finds Strength in Numbers

     

     
     
    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2006

    For very small service firms in Uganda, forming a coalition gave them a collective voice, resources and influence with trade negotiators.

    Governments conduct negotiations on the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), but in practice it is businesses that trade. In least developed countries (LDCs) like Uganda, it is small firms that trade the most. They have a fundamental stake in the WTO negotiations in general and GATS in particular.

    "SMEs" in Uganda are not simply small and medium-sized enterprises, but small and micro enterprises. Because of their size, they can only influence trade negotiations - whether national, regional or multilateral - through coalitions with firms that have similar features and challenges. Their effectiveness depends on the number and variety of the membership of such coalitions.

    Our organization, the Uganda Services Exporters' Association, is small, and the size of our members is even smaller. But the Government of Uganda became more responsive to our proposals after we constituted ourselves into a private sector working group on trade in services through the Private Sector Foundation Uganda, an apex body whose members include all organized groups for industry, professionals and trade in Uganda. This has allowed Ugandan services firms, even small ones, to contribute to Uganda's negotiating proposals. It also serves as a basis to select private sector representatives to a number of WTO and regional negotiation forums.

    When SME coalitions are seen to enrich the negotiations' menu with useful resources, there is no reason to exclude SME businesses from taking part in trade negotiations.

    Entry point: data for negotiators

    The biggest challenge for trade negotiators on ser-vices is the lack of statistical information. Where available, it is too aggregated for any meaningful analysis. Service industry coalitions can undertake research to help fill this void and inform national negotiating positions and other important legislative and policy processes. In our case, we made a baseline survey of the services sector in Uganda, with ITC and United States Agency for International Development support, in 2002. The first of its kind, the survey formed the basis for selecting the five priority sectors in Uganda's national export strategy for services, launched in 2005. Providing this kind of information is an entry point for players considered too small to influence or drive critical decision-making processes in trade negotiations.

    We recently conducted a study to assess the regional export potential for education services from Uganda to the East African Community and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, with the support of the European Union (EU). This study led to Uganda proposing to make a specific market access commitment for higher education and vocational tertiary education in the current request and offer process. Uganda's trade negotiating committee adopted further recommendations from the study as part of its request to the EU and South Africa. Providing information that leads to certain decisions is as important as the decisions themselves. SME business coalitions, by playing this role, help set the agenda at trade negotiations.

    Be creative, be included

    Left on their own, governments would rather negotiate without the inconvenience of accommodating private sector interests in general, and especially the interests of small and micro businesses. The situation is worsened by the apathy of most small firms in LDCs. For most, the GATS is a remote arrangement for which the government is responsible. But business associations must be proactive if they are to make a difference.

    In 1999, when Uganda's trade negotiations framework, the Inter Institutional Trade Committee (IITC), was still in its formative stages, the Uganda Services Exporters' Association volunteered to be the secretariat of its Trade in Services Working Group. This put the coalition at the centre of trade negotiation arrangements. When the IITC was legally established as Uganda's Trade Negotiating Committee, the coalition was naturally included as a member. Consequently, it has represented the private sector on Uganda's official delegation to all the WTO's Ministerial Conferences since Seattle. In addition, the Uganda Services Exporters' Association has recently been designated the National Enquiry Point on trade in services for Uganda.

    Nonetheless, all this would not have come to pass if the Government of Uganda had not committed itself fully to an inclusive, consultative public-private sector dialogue on trade negotiations. And we would have achieved little without the support of Uganda's donors and development partners. Coalitions such as ours demonstrate that businesses, however small, when organized in networks and coalitions, can make a unique contribution if they are given the opportunity to influence and participate in trade negotiations.




    Find Networks for Support

    "Five years ago, in Cancún, only one Australian service industry representative attended the WTO Ministerial, as a non-governmental organization. This time there are seven service industry representatives here in Hong Kong with me, four of them on the 'inside', in the formal government delegation. So there is a huge change. The Australian service sector is mobilizing.

    "This was achieved without donor funding. What helped? Critically important was the moral support and information exchange by e-mail from groups such as the Global Services Coalition, the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce, the United States Coalition of Services Industries, the European Services Forum and Keidanren in Japan, as well as the fledgling service organizations springing up in developing countries, encouraged and assisted by ITC.

    "We need to think beyond agriculture, because the next generation's employment depends on growth in the service sector. We have come to Hong Kong to keep the pressure on the negotiators. And to send visible messages to the world community that government needs to pursue our interests."

    Jane Drake-Brockman, Executive Director, Australian Services Roundtable

    Business for Development, Hong Kong, December 2005


    George F. Walusimbi-Mpanga (georgew@servicexport.com) is Executive Secretary of the Uganda Services Exporters' Association.

    This article is adapted from Mr Walusimbi-Mpanga's presentation at the "Business for Development" meeting in Hong Kong, December 2005.


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