Uganda's Services Coalition Finds Strength in Numbers

Article excerpt

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

GovernmentsWonduct 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 services 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. …