Rwanda’s economic growth has been slowing down since mid-2016 resulting in a 6% growth in 2016 and in 4.2% annualized growth in the first quarter of 2017, according to the 10th edition of World Bank Rwanda Economic Update, Sustaining Growth by Building on Emerging Export Opportunities.
This slowdown was mainly due to a combination of drought, weak export prices and a slowdown of construction activities following the completion of large investment projects in 2016. However, the growth is expected to peak up in the second half of 2017, the report indicates.
It also noted improvement in the macroeconomic policy environment in 2017 with inflation decelerating to below 5% by June, down from the peak of more than 8% recorded in February. Depreciation of the exchange rate has also alleviated the pressure on foreign exchange reserves and is expected to contribute to narrowing of external imbalances.
Regarding the performance of the export sector, the Rwanda Economic Update noted that exports increased from just $400 million in 2007 to $1.6 billion in 2016. Non-traditional exports have emerged as an important driver of that growth, thus laying the foundations for export-led growth in Rwanda. Exports to the region, and especially to the Democratic Republic of Congo and to the East African Community (EAC) countries, mainly as re-exports and through small-scale cross-border trade, contributed the bulk of export growth.
“Although Rwanda’s export sector is still small, the progress made in the past decade sends a clear message that an export-led growth is within reach for Rwanda,” said Aghassi Mkrtchyan, World Bank Senior Economist. “The country’s long-term growth strategy should continue focusing on strengthening the capacity of the economy to produce exportable goods and services.”
To ensure sustainable export growth, the Rwanda Economic Update highlights some policy considerations including maintaining a competitive real exchange rate by avoiding its misalignment, focusing on agriculture as a strategic sector that provides raw materials for emerging agribusiness, and continued engagement at the regional level to identify and remove non-tariff barriers within the EAC.
Returning to a higher growth trajectory in 2018 is attainable, although there are risks, according to the report. In the medium term, economic activity will benefit from the expected recovery of prices of traditional exports, including minerals, tea, and coffee. But the key for sustaining growth at the rates in line with Rwanda’s historical average is private sector investment, especially in the tradable and export-oriented sectors.