MR JAPH OLENDE, chairman of the Kenyan Chapter of The American Chamber of Commerce talks about the organisation, its objectives and how it is helping businesses, both American and Kenyan discuss and pursue common interests
Q: Tell us about the Kenyan Chapter of The American Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Japh Olende: The American Chamber of Commerce of Kenya (AmCham) is a voluntary organisation of companies and individuals dedicated to the promotion and enhancement of two-way trade and investment between Kenya and the United States. AmCham Kenya, established in 2005, is affiliated to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington D.C. The U.S. Ambassador to Kenya serves as Honorary President of the AmCham.
It is a non-profit organisation with membership open to American companies, multinationals, and local companies having strong business ties with the United States. It is an important forum for American and international investors in Kenya and their friends to share experiences and discuss areas where we can coordinate our contributions to the Kenyan economy and community.
Since its founding, the AmCham has become one of the largest, most effective business organisations in Kenya. With more than 200 individual and corporate members, AmCham speaks with collective authority on international business matters in every sector of the economy.
Q: What is the membership?
A: It has 22 American corporations, 17 local companies and 150 individual members.
Q: What are its objectives?
A: Briefly, serving as a collective voice of US investment in Kenya in promoting the interests of the local US-Kenyan business community, providing an open forum for the free exchange of ideas in which members may identify, discuss and pursue common interests related to their commercial activities. We also are a trusted and influential advocate with government. The Chamber serving as a platform for the regionalisation of US commercial, trade and investment interests in East Africa and finally, promoting the Chamber’s core values.
In Kenya and East Africa, we have organised a successful East African intellectual Property Rights Conference in Nairobi in November 2006 followed by another one in Tanzania in October 2007. We have also lobbied the Government for the legislation of Counterfeit Act and the establishment Anti- counterfeit Agency.
AmCham has been instrumental in setting up the FCC (Fair Competition Commission) in Tanzania. The FCC protects and promotes competition in markets and protect consumer from unfair and misleading market conduct.
Besides, lobbying the government to facilitate Best Business Practices and Ethics in the implementation process, we were also involved in organising the highly successful AGOA Conference in 2009
Q: What are the main concerns?
A: These range from a weak regulatory framework in certain areas of business, lack of coordination of law enforcement agencies, lack of one stop-shop for investors, counterfeit and substandard goods and the slow clearance of goods at the entry ports.
Q: What is your mandate as the President of AmCham?
A: Broadly, it is to enforce the objectives of AmCham, liaison with Kenyan industry lobby groups, engage with the various government organs which facilitate American business in Kenya and finally, encourage Kenya investors to do business with American based entities.
Q: How has the organisation dealt with the problem of counterfeits? And how serious is it?
A. The battle against counterfeits is currently being fought by both the private sector and the government. We have been in the forefront in engaging with the government to create law enforcement agencies to fight counterfeit. The government has, as a result, created a police unit dealing with this problem. It has reinforced the Kenya Bureau of Standards to assist and Anti-counterfeit Agency. We have been joined by Kenya Drug & Poisons board. These have been complemented with companies in the region employing their own investigators and anti-counterfeit teams to gather intelligence and root out the source and trade in counterfeit goods. Raids of counterfeit storage facilities and shops are mostly conducted at the encouragement and insistence of the private sector. More must be done!
Q: What is the exact problem in fighting counterfeits?
A: Kenya does have laws and the trade in and possession of counterfeit goods is considered a criminal offence. In addition, Kenya has tightened its port and the newly introduced goods inspection guidelines have helped slow the inflow of substandard and counterfeit goods. Both Tanzania and Uganda have joined the fight against counterfeits and the results so far are encouraging. Unfortunately Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda consider the trade in counterfeit goods a civil offence and normally only attach a small fine to those found trading in counterfeit goods. Tanzania has recently improved legislation to deal with counterfeits and Kenya is drafting a new bill to improve their position. Uganda has few legal means to protect the intellectual property owner.
Q: What is the impact of counterfeits on the economy?
A: The first is on the government revenues. It is estimated that counterfeit and substandard products have cost the region over US$ 500 million in lost government tax revenue. It has also hit the bottom-line of American Companies.
Manufacturers of consumer goods have been hardest hit by the illegal importation and trade of counterfeit goods. Sara Lee, Colgate Palmolive, and Eveready have all reduced their production of goods as counterfeits have infiltrated their markets.
Q: What needs to be done?
A: East African governments have started to review laws and some government departments have engaged in enforcement of trademark and Intellectual Property legislation. But Government capacity is largely limited by a lack of understanding of IP and the dangers of the counterfeit trade. Courts do not see the counterfeit trade as a major crime and do not understand the danger to consumers that counterfeit goods present. There remains a consistent lack of actions by regional governments to adequately address and enforce legislation.
We request that bilateral aid to East African countries be earmarked to assist countries with building the capacity to fight the trade in counterfeit goods.
Q. The invasion by Indian /Chinese business in the East African Community market must have taken a toll on the business interest on your membership. What is your perspective on this regards to your immediate market?
A. Indeed that is true but that has also come with its problem on Intellectual Property Right. What America companies are asking for is a level playing field. It is also important ensure that there is sustainability in the alternative goods and services being offered with proven after sales servicesThe market and opportunities in Kenya are vast and there is enough for all foreign investors
BY CAROL KIIRU
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