Traders who daily traverse the DR Congo - Rwanda border have all reasons to smile.
The daily grind of having to play hide-and-seek with customs officials in order to avoid paying taxes – for even a bunch of bananas – will be no more.
Last week both countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding to implement the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Simplified Trade Regime (COMESA STR).
In simple terms, cross-border trade will be made easier and unnecessary trade barriers removed. Small scale traders will no longer have to pay import duties for goods whose worth is below $2,000 (about Rwf1.6 million).
This is huge, very huge, for cross-border traders, most of whom are women trying to eke out a living for their families.
Official figures show that one small border post alone between Goma and Rubavu towns – Petite Barrière – serves between 40,000 and 45,000 travelers daily, that is how crucial the new agreement is for residents.
Therefore, streamlining cross-border trade will not only improve livelihoods, it will also enhance cooperation as more traders will be encouraged to join in, with the confidence that they will not have to endure unnecessary hassles.
Rwanda’s strategy of building markets close to borders will also begin paying off more than before and trade volumes are sure to increase.
Now the government should next embark on seeing how similar agreements could enter into force with the other border countries of Tanzania and Uganda, despite the former not being a member of Comesa.
At present, Burundi has chosen the isolationist way of banning cross-border trade, therefore, the STR is not applicable until it sorts out its mess.