BILLIONS AT STAKE AS EU BANS UGANDA EXPORTS
By John V Sserwaniko, Follow @mulengeranews
Through their Mission offices in Kampala, the Brussels-based European Union (EU) bosses have furiously written to Vincent Sempijja’s agriculture ministry halting any further exportation of Ugandan vegetables and fruits on grounds of being toxic and unsafe. Addressed to Agriculture Ministry’s Crop Inspection and Certification Commissioner Dr. Paul Mwambu, the one page letter expressly prohibits any further exportation of pepper (Kamurari) to any European country because huge quantities of “Thaumatotibia leucotreta” have repeatedly been intercepted in it.
This is a very deadly pest that invisibly grows inside the pepper fruit and can’t be detected or seen with a naked eye until the pepper is exported to Europe where it’s tested in the highly sophisticated quality toxicology labs. Knowledgeable MAAIF sources have told Mulengera news that Ugandan pepper has for the last two years been tested and found to consistently contain up to 50% of the prohibited pest elements as opposed to mere 10% that is permitted as the maximum for entry onto the highly regulated European market. MAAIF sources were unanimous that Mwambu’s indifference has led Uganda to this latest predicament because he has always taken things lightly despite constant compliance reminders from Brussels.Museveni chats with EU bosses in a recent photo
Indeed in their letter halting Ugandan pepper and vegetable exports, the EU bosses show their frustration with Mwambu’s indifference. This is how the letter captures their frustration: “Your office has always been requested to investigate as a matter of urgency the cause of these non-compliances and encouraged to ensure that appropriate measures are taken immediately to ensure that future exports are free from harmful organisms and comply fully with EU phyposanitary requirements. These had to be evidenced by a report that had to be provided by your services to the EU. However, so far the European Commission has never received any reply to any letter from your office.” The letter, that is couched in clearly very restrained diplomatic language, further states: “As of 1st February 2019, the number of interceptions was 55 [40 in Capsictom, 9 in Rosa, 6 in Amona muricate] which is the highest among all EU’s trading partners. The EU member states and Commission consider this threat as requiring possible safeguard measures in case the situation can’t be assessed as “under control.” To avoid such measures that would have a negative impact on Uganda’s exports to the EU, it has become urgent to receive the required information as previously requested and to demonstrate that the situation is now under control. Consequently, the EU Commission would like to organize a meeting (video link will be provided by the EU Delegation to Uganda) to discuss with you these interceptions and request [for] information about what measures your office is taking to fight against this pest and reduce the number of interceptions. Please note that if we do not receive urgent feedback from your office within 14 days [counting from 2nd March] of receipt of this letter, the EU Commission might have no choice but to make a decision on a ban on peppers imported from Uganda. Your assistance in this matter will be highly appreciated.”
In a bid to break this issue down and make it comprehensible for our readers, we spoke to officials at MAAIF who were too nervous to speak on record. Firstly they were fearful President Museveni, who has been very outspoken in export promotion as a strategy to grow our foreign exchange receipts, might react angrily by firing Mr. Mwambu and other leaders at the Ministry for being too indifferent to such a very important matter. It was supposed to be brought to his attention but State House sources say this never happened as MAAIF Minister Vincent Sempijja feared being reprimanded as floppy by the man from Rwakitura. As Works Minister Monica Azuba and CAA officials recently discovered, Museveni considers foreign relations to be his domain and always wishes to be briefed in advance to avoid being taken by surprise when reprisals ensue as is becoming the case with this EU action banning Ugandan vegetable exports from their market. So all these concerns combined to make MAAIF officials to become tight-lipped when we rang them. We agreed that for their comfort, they speak to us anonymously without being quoted. One of the points that clearly came out is that the EU ban on Uganda’s pepper exports will annually cost GoU more than $200m because as of 2017, our net receipts from pepper exportations was $150m. It has since grown to over $200m. This is cash Museveni badly needs to boost the cracking Ugandan economy if his argument against MTN (accusing it of profit repatriation) is anything to go by. The MAAIF bosses agreed that the EU Commission has been too patient with them because European governments take consumer protection very seriously. One technocrat said “that letter is a killer because it equally applies to all the other exports closely related to pepper such as eggs plants, other vegetables and fruits.” The Europeans now don’t want further importation of Ugandan pepper into their markets because the impugned pest is so deadly “it can easily infect pepper and similar family plants in their own countries.” The dilemma for Uganda is that we currently have no means to tell which pepper is infected with this pest as that can only be established on arrival in Europe where samples are taken for its detection. The technocrats at MAAIF said a red flag was mutedly raised many years ago even during Export promotion-related meetings at State House but politicians often shut them up fearing any chosen intervention would require spending money, a suggestion the MAAIF political leadership has always been reluctant to entertain. “The EU is definitely going to ban other exports like the rose flowers and Okra which has been bringing in over $300m in forex upon exportation annually,” said a very frightened MAAIF technocrat adding that Mwambu will need divine intervention to survive the Museveni wrath for causing so much financial loss to Uganda. Once a ban is effected, it could take over 10 years of rigorous verification to have it lifted, disclosed another scared MAAIF official.
To gradually overcome the EU blockade (that technocrats fear will inspire North America and China to impose similar bans), there are a range of actions or interventions the Museveni government must urgently undertake including effecting a voluntary ban on the exportation of all the other things to EU before the European Commission makes similar findings declaring other exports as unsuitable for their market. “That prolonged period of voluntary ban will bring the threshold of the interceptions from 50% where it is now to zero which is the most perfect situation. We must also overcome floppy technocrats and begin being active communicators regularly updating the EU Commission on the remedial steps being taken because from the latest letter it’s very clear we aren’t communicating to the EU. That is why things have become complicated and the treasury will feel the pinch of that ban hurting service delivery. We know where the pest is and should obtain EU funding to destroy pepper gardens in areas where it is endemic. We should also cut down gardens where the pest is. The other alternative is to invest in value addition so that we have capacity to detect the pest before exportation and gratefully, you don’t need a lot of money to commence that pre-exportation processing to preserve our pepper. We must also intensify inspection by having extension workers adequately recruited to follow up the farms rather than just doing awareness creation,” explained one of the MAAIF technocrats when pressed to explain remedies that must be undertaken. Pepper and exportable flowers have always been commonly grown in areas around Lake Victoria because of the proximity to the Airport as such exports have to be made expeditiously to check on perishability. But with introduction of refrigeration facilities, pepper and vegetable exportation and planting has lately been popular to communities in Western Uganda and some parts of eastern-and the EU ban is going to leave many pepper, vegetable and rose flower farmers financially limping with a much diminished market. For the government it will mean loss of colossal tax revenues and foreign exchange which Museveni badly needs to continue delivering services to the people and remain President. For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755.
—— AUTO – GENERATED; Published (Halifax Canada Time AST) on: May 30, 2019 at 04:34PM