Frank Matsaert: How we made a start-up a continental entity in 10 years
After a decade of working to alleviate trade bottlenecks in the region, Frank Matsaert is stepping down as Managing Director of TradeMark East Africa.
His last day in office was June 30 this year, and in an interview he explains how different the organization was this Thursday last month compared to October 2010, when he entered as founding chief executive. from TMEA.
Matsaert took office when TMEA was in its start-up phase and leaves an organization that is becoming a pan-African entity. TMEA, he said, is expected to become TradeMark Africa within the next two months and open its first office outside the EAC in West Africa. The organization intends to play a key role in the successful take-off of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
It also plans to launch a commercial branch – Trade Catalyst Africa (TCA) – which will raise capital and finance the construction of infrastructure, particularly at border crossing points. Matsaert said TMEA will launch TCA in the coming months.
“It’s been quite a journey. We launched Trademark with a budget of approximately $40 million (4.7 billion shillings – at the current exchange rate) and we are now at a cumulative budget of $1.2 billion (141 billion shillings)” , Matsaert said, explaining much of the money – about 106 billion shillings. ($900 million) – has been spent in the region to build infrastructure such as one-stop border posts and enhance port capacity.
“We have tried to be a positive player in unlocking business potential through a range of things such as working in ports. For example, at Mombasa Port in 2010 when we started, it took you about 12-14 days to clear the cargo and now you will do it in about four days. Also at the border post, the time needed to cross these borders has decreased by 70%.
“The overall impact of TradeMark over the past 12 years has been to reduce trading costs by around 30%. This represents over $115 million (13.57 billion shillings) per year in cost savings for the private sector.
He has worked on 16 One Stop Border Posts in the East African Community (EAC) as well as countries in the Horn of Africa and some Southern African States.
In its quest to become pan-continental, Matsaert said TMEA is currently working on the possibility of setting up border posts on the Lagos-Abidjan corridor as well as at the Ghana-Togo border.
“One of the things we talked about is rebranding to Trademark Africa. We will probably launch the new brand in September,” he said. has since grown to 160. TMEA then focused on the five EAC countries, but has now expanded to 13 countries, with the next phase of its growth involving the rest of Africa. he had envisioned an organization that would work in different countries, but added that by becoming a pan-African entity, TMEA will go beyond the vision he had ten years ago.
“He’s grown way beyond my dreams, actually. I thought we would have an institution that would gradually spread to neighbors, but I never thought it would be a transcontinental or pan-continental institution. It really exceeded my expectations,” he said.
“I think Trademark over the next decade could really make a difference in helping the AfCFTA really emerge.”
He also said that TMEA would launch a Trade Catalyst Africa (TCA) business arm, which supports a growing infrastructure financing gap.
TCA has already received an initial capital of $25 million (2.95 billion shillings) from the US government.
“What we have seen is a significant drop in donor funding available for some work. We realize that although expensive, infrastructure is essential,” he said, adding that TCA would find capital and set up infrastructure such as crossing points, but charge modest user fees. Matsaert said the organization would focus heavily on “ethical” financing to avoid introducing new bottlenecks to trade.
This would mean avoiding costs while keeping toll expenses to a bare minimum. “We want to find ways to bring in commercial capital in an ethical way and not the kind of thing you sometimes see where infrastructure development on a user-pay basis is very expensive, but rather to do something something that really represents good value,” he said.
“Across the continent, for example. Many border posts must be set up. We are developing a toll model that is very low in price and can really rock the continent. »
His organization has helped businesses in the EAC reduce trade costs by some 13.57 billion shillings a year through its facilitation work or reduce the time spent at border crossing points through the One Stop Border Posts of several hours – in some cases days – to less than an hour. .
Matsaert said his proudest moment was working with 100,000 traders to enable them to gain recognition from governments on either side of borders.
This in turn has reduced harassment by government officials at border points while traders have increased compliance with legal requirements, including paying taxes to continue doing business.
TMEA has also succeeded in ensuring that traders have a say in the management of business at the border crossing points, with some of them being included in some of the committees that run the crossing points.
“At the borders, there are many small informal traders… tens of thousands of informal traders and many of them are women. We have tried to help these traders know their rights while educating governments on their importance. Over time, they ceased to be considered smugglers, so customs officers now facilitate their trade. They now account for a significant portion of revenue growth for both governments,” he said. The initial project involved traders at the Busia border.
“I remember taking the women from the Busia border to the world trade organization (WTO) in Geneva to tell their story. And they really brought a lot of officials there to tears because it’s such a transformational story. These women are not sexually harassed, they do not have to pay illegal fines, they cross the border without hindrance.
He added that independent studies at some border points show that with a reduction in levels of unfair harassment from government officials, trades earnings have doubled.
“From that frontier (Busia)… to the WTO and bringing their stories of transformation to the global audience was truly a proud moment. And it’s all based on that work on the ground, understanding the stakeholders and the partnership that we talked about earlier,” he said.
Matsaert said TMEA is now working with the Gates Foundation to expand the project by helping small traders at border points.
He expects the number of beneficiary traders across border points in the region to increase to 300,000.