As new minister, what are your areas of focus? What do you want to achieve?
I may be new as a minister but Rwanda’s commitment to regional integration is not new and I’m guided here by Rwanda’s priorities in EAC integration process. We are not starting from scratch, a number of things have been achieved. We are looking at what the maximum returns for Rwandan citizens, maximum return for business and for professional bodies and associations are. The Customs Union that started being implemented brought a number of benefits especially at the beginning of this year on the Northern Corridor and now on the Central Corridor. The trucks turnover is increasing and it has doubled. This is one of the areas we need to consolidate our efforts to ensure that we benefit more.
The Central Corridor is still in pilot phase and we are implementing the Single Customs Territory on products like fuel products, grains, and motorcycles. We are planning to go to a full rollout in November and thereafter we will be able to assess the impact.
What about the Common Market Protocol Implementation; how far have member countries gone with it?
The Common Market Protocol will bring huge benefits once we achieve free movement of workers, services, free movement of capital, and the right of establishment in any of the EAC countries. Once implemented Rwandans and their companies will be able to establish themselves in any of the EAC countries and be treated as nationals. We know that comes with huge gains in terms of growth in their businesses but also huge gains in terms of employment. We are still at very early implementation but we are going to focus on that. We have to advocate for full implementation of the Common Market Protocol. The third area is on the survey we conducted in the ministry but there is low awareness. We want close active involvement of the business community in the integration process. It will turn opportunities into actual benefits so they need to be on board because they need to know the issues we are confronted with. We need active involvement of all; Non-government actors, civil society, and the media to become our partners.
How has single customs territory benefited Rwanda?
The Northern Corridor started being implemented in January 2014 and we have seen the cost of a container of goods from Mombasa to Kigali reduced by US$1000. This is not little money. In terms of time, we have seen a dramatic drop in the time it used to take and it moved from 21 days to five days to transport a container from Mombasa to Kigali. We are going to conduct the same assessment on Central Corridor because it’s now being implemented.
What about the Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs)?
This is where we have the most visible progress and achievements. Here we speak louder to the business community. More than 17 NTBs have been removed and we do have more or less 20 that are still in place and less than 10 that are new on both corridors.
How possible is the full implementation of Common Market Protocol? Is free movement of labor, capital, and others, be possible in the EAC?
It’s not easy but what show that it is feasible are the ingredients required to make it happen. It is the political will and it’s there in all five states. It’s absolutely a necessary condition but it’s not sufficient to make that happen. We now have to look at what is in place. There are a number of legislations that need to be harmonised. We need to look at what is required for an engineer from Rwanda to be able to operate in Kenya. So we need to go for all these requirements. We need to establish the mutual recognition of qualifications. We also need to go for the checklist of all the policies in the respective countries that are discriminative of other EAC countries and amend them. It involves a lot but once the political will is there and there is involvement of all partners, especially the professional bodies themselves, then it gives us the steam we need.
When you look the Rwanda private sector, it is still not developed like Uganda or Kenya and you’re now opening up the market. Are there some initiatives you’re putting in place to ensure that Rwandans compete favourably on the market?
Integration is a multi-way process. On the side of Rwanda, our performance it terms of implementing our commitments is good; which is why for example today Kenyans can come to Rwanda and get work permits without paying for them. This means we have to get an equal access to other EAC member countries. Either as workers or any other Rwandan who wants services in these countries. If you ask me if that is happening today; it’s not happening. It is a dynamic process and our priority is to continue accelerating for implementation of the Common Market Protocol for this happen.
You tell us that the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations are done. When should we expect the signing?
I don’t think it is a good idea to start disclosing the intricacies of the EPAs negotiations. What is important is where we are in terms of negotiations. We are at very advanced level. The remaining differences are marginal and are all solvable. Now obviously the date has been an issue and the reason why it’s an issue is because of the regulations of EU stating that after Oct.1 duties will apply to all developing economies and Kenya of the EAC members will be the General System of Preferences. In actual fact that means that Kenyan exports will be submitted to higher duties. Definitely we are closer to a deal but if you ask me whether it will happen in a week or a month, am not able to answer. But once the deal is signed, the EU has the possibilities of saying that duties that applied can still be reimbursed retroactively.
What should we expect immediately after signing the deal?
People should not be mistaken that once the agreement is signed it will dramatically change the structure of our trade with the European Union. Market access is one condition and component of competitiveness, another component is the cost; how much will it cost to produce in the community or to assemble from the community, to add value in the community. And that’s where integration comes into play. If we have a large market, clearly with the economies of scale, we can become much more competitive. But it also calls for a look at the impediments to the productivity at national level. So there are a number of components to competiveness. That is why I don’t think people should be mistaken that once the EPAs are signed, overnight it will change the structure of the trade with EU. That will be disregarding other components.
Source:: The Independent
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TradeMark Africa.