Following a recent visit to Rwanda with EIF, Netherlands Ambassador to the WTO and LDC Sub-Committee Chair Monique van Daalen discusses seeing the country’s cross border trade efforts in person, as well as the country’s policy in action
So what was your experience of Rwanda’s trade situation during this trip?
For me personally I wanted to get a sense of what Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are doing, and Rwanda is special. Kigali is very modern but in the countryside you see there are people struggling to get by, and therefore EIF is an important organization helping Rwanda implement its trade programs.
Rwanda is intending to graduate from being an LDC in a couple of years. They would like to start the process in 2020 – which is very soon – and they are making plans. While there I saw extensive, well thought out economic plans for the next ten years. It was really impressive.
Can you elaborate on the Government’s trade planning?
Speaking with the people at the Ministry of Trade and Industry who hosted us in Kigali, they have detailed long-term plans for trade. But they also said it is still quite hard to put those plans into practice. There are many things they run into. One is of course their history, which I fully understand.
Demographically they have a lot of young people, which brings with it the need to invest a lot in education, and they have started with primary education and universities and vocational training. One of the things we saw in the Special Economic Zones in Kigali where the big companies are is that lack of skills can be a problem so efforts with education are important.
Also there are more women in Rwanda than men, so a lot of female-headed households. I spoke with the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion and she explained to me that they are trying to make women more robust in the economy. Women account for 40% of the trade volume in Rwanda. With the cross border markets the majority of traders are women, so the Government is trying to support their role in the economy.
You visited one of Rwanda’s cross border markets. Can you elaborate?
I went to Rwanda’s border with the DRC at Gisenyi. They have a state-of-the-art, brand new combined building for immigration, for customs, for health – so they have a very well organized system.
At the Petite Barriere crossing for pedestrians you see a lot of female traders bringing their goods to the markets and buying and selling. And what they’ve done is put up a really beautiful market building, which is almost open. We had a sneak preview of the building, and a female cooperative was there to receive us and for them it was the first time to go into the building and it was really nice to see how enthusiastic these women were for this new setup. It is very well organized, they have stalls for vegetables, for meat and fish, for clothing and they are all differently designed and it’s cheap for them to rent.
They expect that it will be easier for these women and safer. The women can leave their items there and bring more items at their leisure. And one of the things that is important to them is there is a crèche so they don’t have to leave their children behind.
So, in summary, they expect more trade, easier trade and safer trade for these women.