Uganda has opened a consulate in the southern Sudanese city of Juba to assist Ugandan firms to participate in trade and investment in country.
An official in Uganda's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Julius Kagamba, said, "Uganda's foreign policy is currently geared towards trade and investment, so the consulate will help Ugandan companies to sell more goods to Sudan. Uganda was already supplying goods to southern Sudan, he said.
Last week, Mr Kagamba told The EastAfrican that the consulate would also enable Uganda to support the implementation of the Sudan Peace Agreement, being one of the countries given a mandate by the African Union to do so.
Arapta Mangusho, who previously worked at the Foreign Ministry's Multilateral Organisations and Treaties Department, will head the Juba consulate.
A memorandum of understanding between Uganda and Sudan signed in April 2004 allowed Kampala to open a consulate in Juba, while Khartoum was to set up one in Gulu in northern Uganda.
Government officials said the arrangement was aimed at enabling Ugandan firms to compete favourably with business from Kenya and Egypt for business opportunities in Sudan. Uganda has also planned business conferences and trade missions for manufacturers, traders, contractors and government departments.
Ugandan authorities and companies are worried that if they do not move quickly, they could lose the anticipated windfall to Egypt - which is already doing roaring trade with Sudan - and Kenya, which is opening a commercial bank and is likely to erect infrastructure at Sudan's Rumbek airstrip.
Uganda is currently home to about 240,000 Sudanese refugees, and it is anticipated that when they return home they will form a major basis for growth of trade with Uganda.
The UN says it will use Entebbe airport for most of its relief operations in southern Sudan, as it already does for its eastern Congo mission.
During an investment and trade conference for Sudan held on June 7 in Kampala, Janet Namuyangu, Minister of State for Industry, said Uganda needed to devise a strategy for entering the Sudan market, bearing in mind budgetary and funding implications and other logistics.
"It is also important to establish a sustainable and entrenched trade platform in Sudan by opening up permanent trade and exhibition points for continued business promotion and creation of strategic business linkages," she said.
Sembule Steel Mills, one of Uganda's big companies, says it has sent a team to Sudan to do a market survey for its products, which include barbed wire, chain link, wire mesh, roofing sheets and mild steel plates.
Roofings Ltd, a leading manufacturer of building materials, which last year earned $10 million from exports to Burundi, Congo, Rwanda, Sudan and Tanzania, says it is anticipating higher export earnings from Sudan, with the new political dispensation and planned erection of communication infrastructure between the two countries.
When he toured the Sembule mill last week, Trade and Industry Minister Daudi Migereko said Uganda had paid a heavy price for its involvement in the Sudan conflict and stood to gain by doing business with Sudan.
On June 8, President Yoweri Museveni said Ugandan firms were playing a major role in rehabilitating southern Sudan. Uganda was training a contingent of its soldiers to be part of the UN peacekeeping force in Sudan and Uganda was training 250 Sudanese police officers.
Ignie Igundura, public relations manager of the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority, says resumption of Entebbe-Khartoum flights two months ago - after a 10-year hiatus - is boosting trade and tourism between the two countries. While passengers from Entebbe to Khartoum had to fly Kenya Airways through Nairobi, now they can fly straight to Sudan. Air Sudan operates a weekly direct flight from Entebbe to Juba and Khartoum.
Uganda is keen to establish a rail link from Gulu to Sudan's Nimule and Juba, and from Pakwach to Sudan's Wau and Yei towns. Kawaga Zalwango, spokesperson of Uganda Railways Corporation, said the line to Gulu had already been rehabilitated while work is going on on the Pakwach line.
Meanwhile, Ugandan and Kenyan investors attending a southern Sudan investors' conference in Kampala last month said much needs to be done before they move there.
The investors said Sudanese authorities have to create a modern legal system to run alongside the traditional one and set up a data system that enables investors to make informed decisions.
They also asked the Sudanese delegation, which was led by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM/A), vice chairman Dr Riek Machar, to formulate modern traffic rules. Currently, for example, if a foreigner knocks down a Sudanese national, he has to compensate the family of the deceased with 52 cattle.
"We need to respond to the opportunities that will accrue from the peace agreement reached between the SPLM/A and Khartoum, but we need a good environment," said Florence Kata, executive director of the Uganda Export Promotion Board.
The meeting also asked Sudan to address the internal contradictions such as the inconsistencies in levying taxes by various local governments.
"Though Uganda and southern Sudan have been trading informally and co-operating for the past 23 years, we need to formalise the cross-border trade as we share cultures and common languages," Ms Kata said.
The two-day conference running from June 22-23 was organised by Knight and Day Consortium in collaboration with Resource Team Uganda Ltd and attracted over 140 potential investors and exhibitors from as far as Kuwait, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
The investors were told that they could tap into the $4.2 billion Multi-Donor Trust Fund for South and North Sudan that will become operational in six to 12 months. For example, the UN peacekeeping mission for the Sudan will need 10,000 peacekeepers for six years, who will need housing and related services.
USAid is to run a $400 million project to refurbish and build new infrastructure, while GTZ will look at roads and water dykes, all offering big contracts for construction companies in the region.