Rwanda and DR Congo have affirmed commitment to strengthen bilateral trade ties between the two countries.
This was one of the outcomes from a weekend meeting between François Kanimba, the Minister for Trade, Industry and East African Community Affairs, and Aimé Boji Sangara Bamanyirwe, DR Congo’s Minister for Commerce.
The meeting took place in the eastern DR Congo town of Bukavu, and discussed trade facilitation between the two countries.
The two ministers committed to instruct relevant institutions to refrain from creating tariffs and non-tariff barriers for trade between the two countries, according to a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting.
Speaking to The New Times on Monday Kanimba said that “the momentum is good” as the two countries look to further boost cross-border trade and particularly empower hundreds of small-scale cross-border traders on both sides.
“We are enhancing trade and the Congolese are very friendly and want to improve the trade relationship,” Kanimba told The New Times.
The statement indicates that the Congolese minister “clearly stated” that no other institutions should introduce trade barriers on the Congolese side without due consultations.
Such decisions, he noted, should only be taken by central government in Kinshasa.
An action plan to implement the decisions and trade facilitation between the two countries was adopted and approved by the two ministers.
Kanimba said: “We put in place a joint committee that will meet regularly and discuss progress. By end of June we must have agreed on the action plan to start being implemented by our customs officials.”
While it is noted that the ministerial committee will meet twice a year to evaluate the progress, another specialised committee at the borders – which should meet at least four times and report on progress –was created to jointly implement related decisions.
For manufactured products, the two countries need to first conclude the format of certificates of origin, as well as agree on the procedure and this should be done by June.
The two countries are collaborating on the implementation of a simplified clearance procedure under Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), known as the Simplified Trade Regime (STR).
The COMESA, a regional free trade area with 20 member states stretching from Swaziland to Libya, came up with a simplified customs clearance procedure for Member States that would be used by small-scale cross-border traders to facilitate easy import and export of their goods.
The STR was introduced to address the problems faced by small-scale cross-border traders, such as, lack of knowledge and information on the benefits of trading with other COMESA countries; complex documents and complicated processes of filling the current forms; increased clearance costs; and delays in the clearing of goods and processing of tax refunds.
The STR intends to overcome these challenges by simplifying the whole process of clearing goods for small-scale cross-border traders by way of, among others, introducing a simplified certificate of origin which should be signed and stamped by a customs official at the border post for all goods that appear on the common list; a simplified customs document; and a common list of qualifying goods.
The common list will be gazetted by each Member State and notified to the general public, especially by being displayed at all border posts within COMESA.
During the official launch of the Simplified Trade Regime, last October, Kanimba and Nefertiti Ngudianza Bayokisa Kisula, the Congolese Minister for Trade, met in Rwanda’s western ton of Rubavu and signed a related memorandum of understanding.
The MoU sought to ease small-scale trading by waiving import duty on products whose worth is below $2000 (about Rwf1.6 million).
Officials then drew a list 168 products – agricultural, livestock, fisheries, construction, cosmetics and manufactured products – and agreed that a joint periodic review be conducted every six months to see if there are products to add or remove.
According to figures from the ministry, in 2015, trade between Rwanda and DR Congo amounted to $164.5 million. Between 2014 and 2015, formal trade between the two countries increased by 15 per cent.