Rwanda’s move to remove NTBs paying off - says govt

When Theodore Murenzi’s truck ground to a halt in Kacyiru, Kigali. So did the business it was supposed to be doing; hauling stone and said to feed the appetite for construction sector.
Cargo trucks at Gatuna.  The New Times / File.
Cargo trucks at Gatuna. The New Times / File.

When Theodore Murenzi’s truck ground to a halt in Kacyiru, Kigali. So did the business it was supposed to be doing; hauling stone and said to feed the appetite for construction sector.

The truck needed brake linings, oil and fuel filters and new clutch plates to get back on the road and earn him some money. All the parts were readily available in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, a few hundreds of kilometres fromKigali.

A few years ago, if your truck developed such mechanical problems, it could have meant being off the road and out of a job for days or even weeks.

This was thanks to the process that would involve; locating the truck parts, ordering and paying for them, having them cleared at two customs posts and delivered to his yard in Kigali.

But in December 2012, thanks to a systematic campaign by Rwanda to overturn the non-tariff barriers (NTBs) to trade with its East African Community (EAC) partner states, the whole process took less than 24 hours.

“I ordered for the spare parts in Kampala, paid for them through Western Union, filled out a simplified declaration form and went to the border at Katuna, where I paid VAT and had a cup of tea with the Police as they were being loaded onto another truck.

“The truck was back in business the next day,” Murenzi says with a smile.

Murenzi’s experience represents those of other businesses in Rwanda.

The head of the Long Distance Truck Drivers Association of Rwanda, plies the two main corridors on which landlocked Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda depend for exports and imports through Kenya and Tanzania’s ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam.

The operation was eased by a ‘simple’ piece of paper created to avoid small cross-border transactions getting choked in the paperwork of major cross-border commerce.

The document was developed as part of a campaign supported by TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) to help East African countries stop talking about NTBs, but actually start removing them.

“We used to go to East African Community (EAC) meetings and the same list of NTBs across the region kept coming up again and again,” explains Kaliza Karuretwa, the Rwandan Ministry of Trade and Industry trade and investment director general.

“Nothing actually happened. Nothing was done  about     NTBs. Nothing   changed,” he   adds.

“So, we decided not to wait any longer. We had to make it happen. We signed bilateral agreements with Uganda and Tanzania to get things changed and, in so doing, I think we became the first country in the East African Community to put in place ways to tackle non-tariff barriers with a view of eliminating them totally,” Karuretwa explains.

With TradeMark East Africa help, the ministry was able to revamp the national monitoring committee for the elimination of NTBs.

A website was established to register complaints online and an advocacy strategy was adopted.

“We have managed to get 38 NTBs dismantled since 2008 and eight domestic NTBs last year,” says Vincent Safari, the committee co-ordinator.

“That still leaves 36 NTBs, but some are easier to remove than others. We are making terrific progress to see that all are eliminated in the shortest time possible,” Safari notes.

Under the bilateral agreements signed with Uganda and Tanzania, the threshold for clearing goods at Rwanda’s borders was raised from $1,500 (about Rwf950,000) to between $3,000 (about Rwf1.9m) and $4,600 (about Rwf2.5m), depending on the border crossing.

This was the procedure that enabled Murenzi to have his truck back on the road in a short time.

This also meant that the working hours of customs points would be increased from 12 to 16 hours a day, largely eliminating the need for transporters to spend nights at customs posts, waiting to be cleared.

The main clearing office   will soon start  operating on a 24-hour basis, Karuretwa revealed.

The bilateral deal also removed the need for a complex certificate of origin. This was, instead, simplified by raising the threshold for the need for such a document to the equivalent of $2,000(about Rwf1.3m), allowing food sellers and small traders to do business without bureaucracy.

This was done bearing in mind that East Africa’s borders are shop windows for small traders on either side.

Truck drivers take such ‘well-oiled’ formalities for granted in the European Economic Community (EEC), which has decades of a head-start on the rest of the world in fine-tuning the bureaucracy of economic integration and smooth trade.

“It used to take 48 pieces of paper to move a truckload of paint from. The Netherlands to Spain,” Deanne de Vries of Agility Logistics, told a recent economist unit EAC summit in Kigali.

“Now, thanks to EU integration, one processes just one document.”

The EAC still has a long way to go to rival such processes that ease ways of doing business, she noted.

But Rwanda has made a big head-start with these few arrangements and promotion of business across the region.

“We know that other EAC partner states are already looking at what we have done and looking to do the same so that business in the region thrives. It is great we have shown the way,” Karuretwa notes.

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