Why China is in our faces

Tuesday March 19 2019

Most traders import products from China because

Most traders import products from China because they are affordable and attractive to Ugandans compared to some locally made products which are priced highly. PHOTOS BY RACHEL MABALA 

By Ismail Musa Ladu & Christine Kasemiire

Ms Scovia Nabbowa, a supplier of freshly squeezed passion fruit juice stopped serving it in glasses and opted for plastic cups on the grounds that they are flexible and attractive.

She loved various plastic shapes and thought her customers would love them too. She particularly prefers the pink and yellow plastic ice cream cone cups with lids and provisions for straws.

In an interview with the Prosper Magazine she said she appreciates the new design and prefers the juice served in them to the fragile glasses. Her customers also like the plastic containers.

She outlined factors such as instant availability of the plastic bottles as well as the cost implication which she are fairly within her affordability range.

But those plastic cups and bottles Ms Nabbowa uses are not made in Uganda. So in many ways, Ms Nabbowa’s story reflects the love-hate affair Ugandans have for Chinese made products.

Uganda being a net importer, means in every aspect of our life here, it’s difficult to do away with Chinese made products. These products are readily available. Like Ms Nabbowa says, these products are fairly affordable and they come in multiple shapes, colours and designs.

A story is told that in China there is nothing that is impossible because you get what you ask for. If you want counterfeit or substandard stuff, there are a people who are ready to deliver that to the dot!

Despite being producers of cotton, Uganda nearly entirely depends on textile products made from elsewhere including China. Chances are extremely high that even the undergarments worn by most Ugandans are Chinese made.

To further demonstrate how deep Chinese products are part of our lives, most children’s toys are made in China. Most utensils being used in urban households are imported from China among other countries. This is not helped by Ugandans’ negative attitude towards locally manufactured products, a problem that Buy Uganda, Build Uganda (BUBU) campaign, being championed by the trade, industry and cooperative minister, Ms Amelia Kyambadde, is trying to cure.

Statistics
According to statistics from the ministry of trade, industry and cooperative, China ranks second after India as Uganda’s top trading partner with Uganda’s imports from China valued at $886.2million (about Shs3.3trillion) million while the exports to China are valued at $57.7 million (about Shs214.3billion).

Uganda’s main imports from China include; electrical machinery and equipment and their parts, for example sound recorders, reproducers and television among other things. These are valued at $152.6 million (about Shs567billion). Uganda also imports a lot of machinery, mechanical appliances, nuclear reactors, boilers and their parts and these are valued at $111.5 million (about Shs414.3billion).

However, Uganda exports less to China with exports valued at $ 57.7 million leaving a wide trade deficit between the two countries. Uganda mainly exports raw hides and skins and some leather valued at $21.5 million (aboutShs79.8billion).
Other exports include oil seeds, fruits and vegetables, coffee, tea and spices.

When interviewed for this article last week, the executive director of Uganda Export Promotion Board (UEPB), Mr Elly Twineyo Kamugisha said it is possible to work towards a win-win situation with China and even India to reduce the disturbing trade imbalance.

He said the government has already struck a deal with China and India which in essence allows Ugandan made products to easily access Chinese and Indian markets.

UEPB is also encouraging Chinese to establish Industries here and manufacturer for export to their country of origin and other markets beyond the borders.

Problem
In the interview with the Mr Twineyo, it further emerged that in totality, imports from China are slowly decreasing save for the consumable products. The trade imbalance between the two countries—Uganda and China emanates mainly from the imports of machines used for the huge infrastructural projects the country is undertaking. Also, several raw materials for industrial use are imported from China, contributing to the unfavourable balance of payment the country is grappling with.

Here to stay
But Uganda is not an island. So, it cannot be entirely self-sufficient because according to Mr Twineyo, there is no country in the world that produces everything it needs. The director private sector development at the Private Sector foundation Uganda, Mr Moses Goli Ogwal concurs with this assertion.

He told Prosper Magazine in an interview last week: “Look, we cannot eradicate Chinese products from our markets or even get rid of them. All we can do is to learn from them.”

He continued: “As private sector, our concern is how to get the part of the pie in terms of technology transfer and several other developments. Then we can be able to assert ourselves. But even then, we cannot say they will be completely driven out of the market. That is not possible.”

A senior technocrat at the trade ministry who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely told this newspaper said the influx of Chinese products will continue to flow into the country unabated for a long time because of the glaring capacity gaps.

The technocrat said despite the BUBU campaign which seeks to increase consumption of local products, there is to support local producers of goods and services or else the country will always be entangled in the same vicious circle: being dependent on exports from China and elsewhere.

Part of the problem which could hurt the BUBU campaign is the country’s policy of economic liberalisation. The country’s market is opened to whoever cares to dump their products here often at the detriment of most nascent local industries.

What players say
“China has kept me in business for many years,” Mr Micheal Mugezi, one of the traders located in downtown Kampala, dealing in women and children bags made in China said.

For the last seven years he has been doing just that—selling Chinese made merchandise. In his stall lies a display of a spiderman plastered school bag.
“Children get excited and push their parents to buy for them a bag with someone they consider their hero,” he said.

Another pink bag comes with wheels at the bottom and a pull out handle, enabling children drag their school bags on the ground, in case they tire from carrying it on the back.

Mr Mugezi has many products all with different colours, shapes and designs all offering the same functionality.
For Mr Kayondo Everest, chairman Kampala City Traders Association, Ugandan products are outcompeted because of price, which is affected by the high cost of production.

Phones with televisions, basins with a sitting position, elastic basins, and juicer-blenders are some products made by Chinese that target a particular demographic or solve a problem.

A woman holds a pink plastic ice cream cone cup

A woman holds a pink plastic ice cream cone cup made in China and sold in Uganda. First impression which is based on the outward appearance of a product, plays a major role in customer buying decisions. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA


HOW DESIGN SPURS INNOVATION
Innovation and design specialist, Mr Bruno Ruganzu, also a lecturer of Industrial Art and Design at Kyambogo University, says innovation and design is a paramount aspect in business that Ugandans have not fully welcomed.
In his experience as a lecturer, he has seen many ideas that fail to make it to the market.

“Our industry is still in baby steps. There is a lot lacking especially in production,” he says. The ideas birthed at university are dying away before they are heard by players in the industrial sector,” Mr Ruganzu said.

On the contrary, manufacturers believe change should not be compulsory but only undertaken to address a need.
“The market votes with its pockets,” Mr Daniel Birungi, the executive director Uganda Manufacturers Association, said in an interview.
He continued: “Our challenge is to face reality and give the market what it demands.”

But that can only happen if the cost of doing business and production is favourable to the manufacturers. Or else innovations which would help reclaim the vacuum being taken advantage of by exports from elsewhere will continue to soar.
“Reduction in costs that Chinese companies have, creates an excess which could be invested in research and development, yet Ugandans are struggling hard to survive in that space,” he says.

In totality, imports from China are slowly decreasing save for the consumable products. The trade imbalance between the two countries—Uganda and China emanates mainly from the imports of machines used for the huge infrastructural projects the country is undertaking. Also, several raw materials for industrial use are imported from China, contributing to the unfavourable balance of payment the country is grappling with.

Here to stay
But Uganda is not an island. So, it cannot be entirely self-sufficient because according to Mr Twineyo, there is no country in the world that produces everything it needs. The director private sector development at the Private Sector foundation Uganda, Mr Moses Goli Ogwal concurs with this assertion.

He told Prosper Magazine in an interview last week: “Look, we cannot eradicate Chinese products from our markets or even get rid of them. All we can do is to learn from them.”

He continued: “As private sector, our concern is how to get the part of the pie in terms of technology transfer and several other developments. Then we can be able to assert ourselves. But even then, we cannot say they will be completely driven out of the market. That is not possible.”

A senior technocrat at the trade ministry who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely told this newspaper said the influx of Chinese products will continue to flow into the country unabated for a long time because of the glaring capacity gaps.

The technocrat said despite the BUBU campaign which seeks to increase consumption of local products, there is to support local producers of goods and services or else the country will always be entangled in the same vicious circle: being dependent on exports from China and elsewhere.

Part of the problem which could hurt the BUBU campaign is the country’s policy of economic liberalisation. The country’s market is opened to whoever cares to dump their products here often at the detriment of most nascent local industries.

What players say
“China has kept me in business for many years,” Mr Micheal Mugezi, one of the traders located in downtown Kampala, dealing in women and children bags made in China said.

For the last seven years he has been doing just that—selling Chinese made merchandise. In his stall lies a display of a spiderman plastered school bag.
“Children get excited and push their parents to buy for them a bag with someone they consider their hero,” he said.

Another pink bag comes with wheels at the bottom and a pull out handle, enabling children drag their school bags on the ground, in case they tire from carrying it on the back.

Mr Mugezi has many products all with different colours, shapes and designs all offering the same functionality.
For Mr Kayondo Everest, chairman Kampala City Traders Association, Ugandan products are outcompeted because of price, which is affected by the high cost of production.

Phones with televisions, basins with a sitting position, elastic basins, and juicer-blenders are some products made by Chinese that target a particular demographic or solve a problem.

HOW PACKAGING CAPTURES CONSUMERS
Although there are no statistics, experts indicate that packaging plays a major role in influencing purchase decisions, especially when visual elements such as shape, colour, size and labeling are innovatively used.

The Uganda Export Promotions Board (UEPB) executive director Elly Twineyo Kamugisha says visuals create a memorable presentation that influences perceptions and how buyers react to a particular product.

He adds that first impression which is based on the outward appearance of a product, determines customer buying decisions.
“Buyer decisions are often influenced by first impression which is mainly created by effective packaging. Eye catching visuals are very important; supermarkets and grocery shops’ shelves are always stuffed with many products that serve a similar purpose yet consumers want to make quick buying decisions,” Kamugisha said.

He added: “A unique, innovative and fresh packaging design helps a brand to stand out amidst the many offerings on supermarkets shelves.”

Research shows that packaging has less than two seconds to capture a shopper’s attention and influence them to buy the product. Studies also show that one-third of consumer decision-making is based on packaging.
Thus, visual packaging components influence consumers’ feelings and buying behaviour through connecting with potential buyers emotionally.

Shape
One of the key visual aspects of packaging is the shape of a product. Kamugisha says customers are drawn to products that are well-designed. Such products are bound to catch the attention of more potential buyers than those that are weakly designed and look plain.

“Simple tweaks in messaging on a package design can make or break a sale or a brand. You can speak volumes to a consumer without saying a word by how you present your product. Packaging shape relates to a consumer on a subconscious level,” he says.

Angular shapes and designs, he notes, are most often associated with masculinity while femininity can be visualised in curved shapes. Squared edges and angular lines, on the other hand, speak to the power for a masculine product while round and curved shapes speak to gentleness for feminine product.

Experts also note that shape can also speak to customers’ subconscious with size, with a smaller package often perceived to be of a higher quality if done with a graphic design that speaks this message. Larger and bulky packaging, on the other hand, can be perceived as higher value in the more-bang-for-your-buck sense.

Colour
Similar to shape, the color of packaging also speaks to the target market and plays a great role in a prospective customer’s decision-making process.

Colour is evocative, with power to trigger feelings and thoughts, whether positive or negative.
Businesses need to align colour selection with their products and their intended retail market to have the great impact on sales. Certain colours set different moods and can help to draw interest.

The black colour on a package design for instance exemplifies wide range emotions from trust, authority, elegance to mourning.
White, on the other hand, shows simplicity and cleanliness.

Yellow, which is said to be the most visible color in the color spectrum, causes excitement and positivity.
He notes that if used in retail displays, yellow draws shoppers in to the product because it demonstrates happiness and light-heartedness in a product. Likewise, blue expresses success and individually and is said to entice consumers to look further into the product. It is also said to be a color of trust and reliability.

Studies show that consumers read on average only seven words in an entire shopping trip, buying instinctively by color, shape and familiarity of location.

Graphic design
Graphic design – using colours, images, words to communicate ideas and important business information, facilitates products to stay competitive in the market through unique graphics if done well.

Explore Research’s audit report on packaged goods also notes that while designing packaging, one should reduce the amount of words and instead use images and symbols.
“People have too many choices and too little time yet most offerings have similar quality and features. Brands need a stand-out name,” the report reads in part.

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