The government has initiated trade talks with the Democratic Republic of Congo aimed at removing restrictions of importation of chicken, eggs and beef from Rwanda.
The restrictions, which were imposed in March, two months after Uganda announced an outbreak of avian flu in wild flocks in January, have mainly impacted informal trade in Rwanda.
The Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Geraldine Mukeshimana, said she expects the talks that involve local leaders and government officials from the two countries to ease trade between the two countries.
“We have a lot in common with DR Congo and the country is an important trade partner,” said Ms Mukeshimana.
DR Congo is the country’s largest regional trading partner commanding 79.7 per cent of the export market value followed by Uganda with 15.5 per cent, Burundi with 4.8 per cent and Tanzania with 0.2 per cent.
Data from the central bank shows that exports to regional markets reduced by 29.4 per cent in the first six months of the year.
According to the central bank, the new non-tariff barriers in DR Congo coupled with drought, which reduced agricultural production, resulted in a drop in regional exports.
Rwanda’s exports dropped to $46.7 million in the first six months of this year from $66.2 million in the same period in 2016, according to National Bank of Rwanda (BNR).
Traders from both countries said authorities at the Bukavu and Goma border posts continue to ban chicken, eggs and beef from Rwanda from entering DR Congo, despite there being no bird flu threat.
Even as government officials hold talks, the private sector in Rwanda is also lobbying their peers in DR Congo to put pressure on their government to remove the import restrictions.
“As the private sector in Rwanda we are also in talks with our peers in Eastern DR Congo to push policy makers to ease the trade restrictions. The last meeting was held two weeks ago at the Goma border,” said Benjamin Gasamagera chairman of the Private Sector Federation, a business apex body in Rwanda.
Mr Gisamagera said officials at the DR Congo border are unpredictable as they sometimes lift the restrictions and then impose them again.
Rwanda’s export growth
Analysts say predictable regional markets are needed to support Rwanda’s export growth strategy, which is why the country is a member of several economic blocs.
Rwanda is a member of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (in French CEPGL- Communauté Économique des Pays des Grand Lacs) and the East African Community (EAC).
Taking advantage of regional and international markets has started paying off with reports from the central bank showing that the import and export gap is narrowing.
In the first half of the year, the trade gap dropped to $671.2 million compared with $902.3 million in the same period last year.
Imports also declined by about 10.6 per cent largely due to increased consumption of locally-made products under the Made-in-Rwanda campaign.
Rwanda’s trade with East African member states increased to $72.2 million from $66.6 million boosted by orders from Kenya and Uganda.
Rwanda, in turn, imported goods worth about $221.6 million from EAC member countries.