Kampala: Rwanda and Uganda have embarked on eliminating the existing trade barriers in a move that could boost trade between the two neighboring countries. Most of the trade barriers that still hinder movement of goods and persons between Kigali and Kampala are on the Ugandan side and some of them include corruption, weighbridges and police roadblocks. While Rwanda has the least so-called Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) compared to Uganda, Ugandan traders have in the recent past complained of few working hours at Cyanika border in northern Rwanda.
Ugandan traders are also unhappy about the bureaucracy they go through at the borders with Rwanda arising from various institutions such as Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA), Immigration and Rwanda Bureau of Standards (RBS) involved in checking the movement of goods and persons. Other barriers include bad roads and lack of harmonized import and export standards and procedures. Also, Ugandan truckers complain of too many hours they spend on queues waiting to fill up their fuel reservoirs while in Rwanda.
Reports have shown that NTBs have played a significant role in slowing the progress of the East African Community (EAC) integration process which has prompted Rwanda to have bilateral negotiations with her neighboring Uganda to solve the challenges bilaterally with the aim of elevating the trade. According to the statistics from the Rwandan Ministry of Trade and Industry (MINICOM), Uganda accounts for 49.9% of EAC imports to Rwanda while Kenya comes second with 30.3%.
Recently, Ugandan officials met their Rwandan counterparts in Kigali to discuss the progress made so far with regard to the implementation of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) the two countries signed early this year.
The two nations have so far held two meetings and they have agreed to conduct more meetings after six months to assess and evaluate the situation on the removal of NTBs. Vincent Safari, the coordinator of Rwandan National Monitoring Committee (NMC) on the removal of NTBs said that the bilateral agreement had already started impacting positively and economic expectations were also high.
"Some weighbridges were removed in Uganda and we expect to increase our trade with Uganda," Mr. Safari said. "It was imperative to have these barriers removed since we all share the same challenges as landlocked countries."
One of the removed NTB is Mubende weighbridge. Others that will be eliminated but there is no specific period to remove them include Rukaya weighbridge, Busitema and Mbarara weighbridges all in western Uganda where most of the goods to Rwanda from the Kenyan port of Mombasa pass.
Safari said that at Cyanika border, the working hours have been increased from 12hours to 16 hours to facilitate free movement of goods and persons. He said that plans are underway to coordinate all institutions working at the borders to avoid bureaucracies that traders encounter while trying to clear goods.
Rwanda is also increasing fuel storage capacity which will address the issue of trucks having to wait for so long to fill up their fuel reservoirs. Officials said fuel storage capacity is expected to increase from the current 30 million liters to 150 million liters by 2017.
RRA has also increased the value of goods that can be cleared at the borders. Currently, goods worth Rwf2.5 million can be cleared at Gatuna border while goods worth Rwf3 million can be cleared at both Cyanika and Kagitumba borders. Gatuna is the most used border between Rwanda and Uganda. At first, traders with imports worth more than 1 million could only clear their goods either in Kigali or they needed permission from the revenue commissioner general which was regarded as a tiresome procedure.
Ugandan traders have always insisted that Rwanda should lower the amount of money it charges foreign trucks using its roads. The country charges a flat fee of US$76 for trucks and US$ 152 for pulling trucks and semi-trailers. In response, Rwanda announced that it has listed the barrier as a regional barrier rather than a bilateral one.
But the Ugandan business community is still pushing removal of the remaining NTBs not only in Rwanda but across all the five member states of the EAC--Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi--in order to facilitate growth of intra-EAC trade which was valued $4billion last year.
"What we need is to provide a conducive environment for our traders by removing all the non tariff barriers that still exist for the benefit of the nationals as well as boosting the trade," Kassim Omar, the Ugandan coordinator of the committee on the removal of NTBs said in the recent meeting in Kigali. "It's horrible, why would trucks be weighed several times within the same country? I'm a truck driver; I have experienced this in Kenya and Uganda," Omar, who also owns a transport company in Uganda, said during the meeting, urging that "We should implement what we agreed."
- Are NTBs slowing EAC integration process?
The EAC Heads of State signed the Common Market Protocol in Nov. 2009 to facilitate the free movement of goods, labor and capital. Since then, however, various NTBs have persisted impeding trade.
The latest report indicates that there were 36 roadblocks between Mombasa and Kigali and 30 between Dar -Es Salaam and Rusumo border. Uganda has a total of nine between Malaba and Gatuna.
Other problems cited were lack of parking yards at border posts, corruption along the northern and central corridors. Tanzania has also been cited in blocking cargo trucks from or to other partner states from moving on its soil beyond 6:00 pm.
Some vehicles transporting tourists are not permitted to cross the borders of some member states especially those from Kenya heading to Tanzania.
Christine Murebwayire, who exports banana wine from Rwanda to Tanzania, said that accessing the certificate of origin at the borders remains a challenge.
"The challenge we face is lack of certificates of origin at some borders especially at the Tanzanian borders. What we need is to remove all the barriers so that we benefit from the integration," she said.
The Permanent Secretary in the Rwandan Ministry of Trade and Industry Emmanuel Hategeka described the trade barriers as challenges that "could hinder regional integration." "If we do not align our trade practices with the EAC Treaty and the Protocols, we stand the danger of losing the benefits of integration," he asserted. "We should take this assessment as a basis for a deep examination of the contribution we can make to improve the situation."