Rwandan traders are set for early Christmas after the Tanzania International Container Terminal (TICTs) announced that it will open a country liaison office in Kigali before the end of the year.
This is in a bid to bring the Dar es Salaam port services closer to traders in Rwanda.
The announcement was made last week, in Kigali, by Paul Wallace, the chief executive of TICTS, a private company that handles 80 per cent of the Dar port traffic.
“We have already made the decision and before the end of December, the office will be operational,” Wallace, who led a delegation of Dar es Salaam port authorities for a three-day promotional tour to Kigali, said.
During their visit, facilitated by Ministry of East African Affairs, the delegation hosted members of the Rwandan private sector to a business lunch during which they discussed possible solutions to a number of issues in a bid to ease trade facilitation at the port and on the central corridor.
Amb. Valentine Rugwabiza, the Minister for East African Community Affairs, told guests during the event that the delegation’s visit was a result of a number of conversations with Dar es Salaam through the Rwandan High Commission in Tanzania.
“We wanted a direct engagement between TICTS, the private company handling 80 per cent of the traffic at Dar port, with the stakeholders, who are the members of the business community transiting cargo through the port,” she said.
Rugwabiza revealed that although the government has been doing some advocacy on behalf of the private sector, it’s important that the traders engage directly with their Tanzanian counterparts to not only address emerging issues but also explore business opportunities.
At least 70 per cent of Rwanda’s maritime trade is channeled through the Dar port on the Central Corridor.
However, last week’s visit was the first time senior officials from the port visited the country to have a direct engagement with their Rwandan clients.
“We acknowledge the work done to improve facilities at the port but we believe there’s still room to improve on the efficiency as well as safety of cargo in transit,” Rugwabiza said.
The minister welcomed news that a liaison office would be soon opened in the country, noting that it would help link traders to the port and address some of the emerging issues.
Although Kenya’s Port of Mombasa only handles about 30 per cent of Rwandan cargo, there had been talk that the visit by the Tanzanian delegation was in response to increasing competition from Port of Mombasa.
However, Wallace dismissed the assertion and explained that Mombasa was only giving them ‘friendly competition.’
Rwanda has two main corridors of trade: the Central Corridor, served by Dar es Salaam port, and the Northern Corridor, anchored on the Mombasa port.
Under the Northern Corridor Integration Projects Initiative by Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, there have been efforts of making Mombasa more efficient and cost effective in a bid to ease trade on the corridor.
However, recently, there have been similar, renewed efforts to improve trade facilitation on the central corridor through the multilateral Central Corridor Transit Transport Facilitation Agency (TIFA) whose executive board is currently chaired by Christian Rwakunda, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Infrastructure.
Improvement in trade facilitation on both corridors has been interpreted by some as competition between Kenya and Tanzania to have their respective ports to dominate regional trade.
However, Fred Seka, the chairperson of the Rwanda Clearing and Freight Forwarders, says efforts on both corridors are welcome and will result into positive gains for traders.
“Having two good ports means two good options for traders. It’s good for regional trade as it would gradually ease the cost of doing business,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tanzania’s complicated procedures for foreign nationals to obtain work permits was a key issue that came out strongly during the interaction between the Dar port authorities and their Rwandan counterparts.
It was heard that Rwandan clearing agents have difficulties accessing the Dar es Salaam port to clear goods on behalf of their clients because they lack work permits to operate in Tanzania.
“It’s one of the reasons why cargo delays in the warehouse,” said Seka.
Denis Karera, the chairperson of the East African Business Council, said TICTS, which is currently not a member of the regional private sector body, needed to join to get support in finding solutions to concerns raised by the Rwandan private sector.
“We need to work together to engage governments through the EAC Council of Ministers because some of the issues require policy changes,” Karera said.