Rwanda and DR Congo have signed a new agreement establishing a framework for bilateral cooperation in the area of cross-border trade and elimination of non-tariff barriers.
Officials in charge of trade from both countries signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU), last week, in Rubavu District, during the official launch of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Simplified Trade Regime (COMESA STR).
The move seeks to ease small-scale trade by waiving import duty on products whose worth is below $2000 (about Rwf1.6 million), according to officials.
It is especially expected to help thousands of small-scale cross-border traders, largely women, to carry out their daily business smoothly.
There is a list of 168 products categorised into agricultural, livestock, fisheries, construction, cosmetics and manufactured products.
A joint periodic review will be conducted every six months to see if there are more products to add or remove, officials said.
According to Francois Kanimba, the Minister for Trade, Industry and EAC Affairs, both the MoU and the Simplified Trade Regime will ease cross-border formal and informal trade between the two countries.
He said the launch of STR was long overdue as Rwanda and DR Congo are member states of COMESA.
The framework agreement aims to facilitate cross-border trade; eliminate non-tariff barriers; commercial and customs fraud; and ensure proper management and exchange of information and statistics, among others.
Kanimba explained that it is part of government’s strategy to promote trade with all its neighbouring countries through setting up required infrastructure, especially roads and markets, along borders.
“The official launch of the COMESA Simplified Trade Regime and the signing of the MoU between both governments is one of the concrete steps to strengthen trade between Rwanda and the DR Congo,” he said.
He hailed cross-border women traders for their role in economic development.
“We have the responsibility to support these (women) traders to develop their undertakings and make their business formal,” he added.
Kanimba said, through the simplified trade regime, traders will be able to acquire free access to simplified certificates of origin from the borders.
“Easy access of these certificates should decrease fraudulent practices across the borders,” he noted.
In 2015, total trade between the two countries amounted to $164, 5 million, according to figures from the ministry.
Formal trade between the two countries has increased by 15 per cent between 2014 and 2015.
“To maintain the momentum calls for coordinated and targeted actions between our two countries to improve such transport networks, storage facilities, construction of border markets, improved systems to further make trade faster and cheaper,” he the minister.
“Our success will depend on keeping the momentum for the full implementation of simplified trade regime at all major border posts,”
Nefertiti Ngudianza Bayokisa Kisula, the Congolese Minister for Trade, observed that small-scale cross-border trade is growing faster and needed to be encouraged to boost regional trade.
“Rwanda and DR Congo are working together, and we will work hard to take both countries to another level,” she said.
“The policy is to work with neighboring countries and others to boost trade and relations,”
Between 40,000 and 45,000 people cross Rwanda’s border with DR Congo known as Petite Barrière, daily.
There are 23 cooperatives in Rwanda and 12 associations in DR Congo plus others working individually.
Asinah Mujawamaliya, a small-scale cross border trader, said easing trade among small-scale traders would increase their returns.
“Waiving import duty will help improve our earnings as we used to pay this tax whenever we crossed the border. We found it hard, we are grateful for the good relations between both countries and happy that women businesses are being supported,” she said.