The Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency (RIEPA), in conjunction with the Rwanda Embassy in London, and the Rwanda Diaspora company organised three day Rwanda Business Expo from the 22nd – 24th August 2008.
Clare Akamanzi, Deputy Director General, RIEPA led the Rwandan team to the UK which included members of the private sector. BusinessTimes had an interview with her on the outcome of the Expo. Below are excerpts.
How do you rate the success of the Rwandan products exhibited at the London Expo?
The exhibition of Rwandan products went extremely well. The objective of this Expo was to expose Rwanda’s goods and services to the UK market. We targeted retailers, consumers, and Diaspora who all came in large numbers. We were overwhelmed by the keen interest in Rwandan products. Some companies sold out on the second day.
We also had a business follow up series where we engaged 20 companies that have already expressed initial interest in investing in Rwanda. This was aimed at identifying specific ways to expedite their investments.
This is a new and effective investor targeting approaches that we have adopted in our marketing strategy.
Which products dominated the others at the expo?
We exhibited mainly Rwandan coffee, tea, handicrafts, fruits, tourism, Agro-processed juice and food (chilli, different flour types, banana wine) as well as financial services.
All these products attracted very good interest, but what we particularly observed was that the demand for foodstuff was tremendous.
The world food crisis is indeed real, and actually creates vast opportunities for countries that can produce for export. Therefore, in addition to coffee and tea, we have great opportunities in the food sector.
Did you register any specific investors who expressed interest and will definitely invest in Rwanda?
Like I mentioned, we had a follow up series where we discussed with very serious investors who have already expressed interest in our location.
We answered their questions and have maintained follow up issues with them since returning. These investors covered several sectors ranging from financial, waste management, real estate, agriculture, infrastructure etc.
We also had deep and serious discussions with about 6 retailers who were ready to start importing Rwandan fruits and processed food immediately. Some of our exporters have already started to engage them seriously.
We heard that the most eye catching commodities were horticultural products and food crops like cassava. Were there any other that caught attention?
All our products got a lot of attention. The tea and coffee were lauded for their quality as we were able to serve some at the expo.
The handicrafts were unique. While foodstuff sold out. So there is potential in all our products, and future is bright. We only have to continue working hard to tap into it.
Are Rwandan exporters in position to meet the expressed external need?
Given the big demand on some of the products, there will clearly be a need for entrepreneurs to expand production levels as the market is really there.
Also, we have to tackle certain pre-market entry requirements such as certification, packaging, labeling, etc. This is the work that we have initiated together with the (Rwanda) embassy and RDI.
Recently you launched the Expo Fund, can it adequately support the exporters?
The Expo Fund will go a long way in reinforcing export capacity, as it aims to provide financial grants to exporters who meet certain criteria. They will be able to offset some costs, and thus boost their exports.
How else do you hope to boost capacity to meet the external need?
We have several activities aimed at supporting exporters such as training, support to attend trade fairs, information dissemination on market entry requirements, and market types.
This year we have included in our work, a needs assessment for high potential export companies in Rwanda.
This will be at company level and will enable us implement specific and targeted facilitation to potential exporters based on their individual needs.
Will you look into the high transport costs that seem to limit the amount exported?
Our mandate as an export promotion institution hinges on continuously facilitating exporters to boost their volumes and values.
On transport costs, we have a facility within RHODA [Rwanda Horticulture Development Agency], the horticulture agency to partially support transport costs for exports.
However, what we found in London is that our exports are still competitive and desirable even with current transport costs because of the high demand there and the good quality. We also aim at big volumes in order to benefit from economies of scale.
Do you think that next year will see a significant increase in exports?
Definitely. We have already reported 53 per cent increase in exports by mid 2008. We expect this trend to continue in the near future. And we must continue to work hard and target specific growth potential.