At the EAC level, National Monitoring Committees consolidate national programs on the elimination of Non Tariff Barriers in order to develop a regional time bound agenda. This agenda is closely monitored and reviewed regularly at the EAC Regional Forum for Non Tariff Barriers.
Rwanda, a landlocked country, is bordered by four countries; Uganda, Tanzania, DR Congo and Burundi. The official entry (border) points with her neighbours are; Kagitumba/Mirama Hills, Cyanika and Gatuna with Uganda, Gisenyi and Rusizi with DR Congo, Rusumo with Tanzania and Nemba and Akanyaru with Burundi.
A survey conducted by the National Bank of Rwanda recently put the volume of Informal cross border trade (ICBT) at Rwf40 billion annually – a quite substantial contribution to Rwandaís aggregate foreign trade volumes, despite of the numerous challenges that informal traders endure everyday.
Trade analysts think that if there was a significant reduction of cross border trade challenges, especially Non Tariff Barriers (NTBs) the volumes would more than double.
That is why, Rwanda, with the support of Trade Mark East Africa (TMEA) has moved to streamline trade across all Rwandan Borders through a comprehensive Cross Border Strategy. But, given institutional capacity challenges crippling the efficiency of the numerous established trade frameworks an uphill task persists to translate strategies in actual results. TradeMark East Africa (TMEA)-Rwanda office is the lead supporting institutions of the Rwanda cross border strategy.
Under the EAC framework, member states have committed to ensure seamless trade-flow amongst them by eliminating NTBs and avoid imposing new ones. To this effect, there are a number of interventions at both regional and national levels. And, in order to fast-track (the elimination of NTBs) bilateral engagements have been encouraged between partner states. January last year, in Kabale-Western Uganda, saw counterpart Ministers of Trade of Uganda and Rwanda sign a historical bilateral Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) on the elimination of NTBs, promotion of Cross Border Trade (CBT), development of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and Cooperatives. Thereafter, a joint technical meeting was held in Kigali Rwanda in June 2012 which developed the Terms of Reference (TORs) and rules of procedure for the joint committees established therein. The meeting also developed work plans to operationalize the MOUs.
Moving on, taking a more practical approach was necessary-to; first of all, get all stakeholders from both sides (Uganda and Rwanda) on board. And, to give it the deserved relevance bilateral meetings were held between 11-14 March, 2013 at Mirama Hills/Kagitumba and Gatuna Border Posts to engage stakeholders on the MOUs but most importantly to establish Border Committeesóstrictly comprised of stakeholders representatives of institutions operating at those borders. Participants included representatives from Government ministries (Rwanda\’s Ministry of Trade and Industry (MINICOM) and Uganda\’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives (MTIC), the private sector representative organizations, local administration from the districts of Ntungamo and Kabale (Uganda) and Nyagatare and Gicumbi (Rwanda), border institutions including police and other security agencies, revenue authorities, immigration, and representatives from cross border tradersí cooperatives and associations.
In forming border committees, officials from the both Governments facilitated the nominations of Committees member institutions. The exercise was replicated at both borders and comprised of; Chair (as Border Manager Immigration), Vice Chair (as Cross Border Cooperative/Association president), and Secretary (as Customs Manager). The rest of the institutions are members to the committee. The Joint Border Committee (JBC) was also institutedócomprises of both National Border Committees on either sides. The same exercise will be replicated at Cyanika Border next month. It was resolved that National Border Committees meet at least once a month but more regularly depending on how issues (NTBs) emerge. The JBC will be meeting on a quarterly basis.
This exercise is largely regarded as institutionalising dialogue at borders to boost cross border trade, especially to the benefit of informal traders.
At both meetings; in Ntungamo and Gatuna, just before the noble exercise of eliminating Border Committees, it was quite revealing listening to first-hand information about the ordeals informal and formal cross-border traders endure. Indeed, the story behind all these ordeals points to the fact that there has been a serious disconnect between the authorities, policies, strategies and beneficiaries (traders) despite of their adequate representation at the border posts. What is most evident, authorities are there to execute their core duties (collect taxes, securities, border clearances etc) and are less mindful and concerned about traders woes. In fact, as was observed and emphasized by Mr. Kasim Omar the Uganda National Monitoring Committee (NMC) Chair of elimination NTBs, authorities and laws that are supposedly meant to facilitate business have become NTBs instead. Over 90 percent of NTBs are embedded in the laws, he remarked.
Selected Revelations Made
Mr Francis Byarugaba is the President of Matooke (Bananas) Sellers Association from Mirama Hills, Ntungamo District Western Uganda. Seemingly in his late 60s, he represents small cross border traders dealing in Matooke between Ntungamo and the environs on the Ugandan side and Kagitumba on Rwandan side. A lot of agricultural products cross from the neighbouring farming districts of Ntungamo, Kabale, Mbarara, Kisoro in Uganda to Nyagatare and Gicumbi and as far as Kigali. Mzee Byarugaba stood boldly and evidently with accumulated beef against the local authorities killing his and members Matooke cross business. He held an A4 book, raised it high up as said that he keeps records of social and trade injustices happening in Mirama Hills and Ntungamo District at large. But he is quite disappointed because the would-be solution providers (Authorities) are the culprits. He decried of un-streamlined system of local administration fees and charges on agricultural products and has seriously turned into a fertile ground of pressing from traders. Taking a closer look at the nature of small scale cross border trade flow between the two countries reveals a consistent trend. It is largely agricultural commodities and general merchandise traded in relatively small volumes but in so frequent times that they subsequently translate into huge import volumes and revenues.
By all standards, there is evidently a mismatch in terms of border facilitation between Rwanda and Uganda. Mr. Musiime John Bosco, a money changer on the Ugandan side at Mirama Hills wondered why the numerous telecom companies in Uganda have abandoned the area. We tap from a more reliable MTN Rwanda to transact using mobile money, he said. Standing at the no-man\’s-land right in the middle of both borders you get to witness the two completely different worlds. Whereas the Rwandan side is nicely paved and tarmac, the entire road connecting Mirama Hills-Ntungamo town is marram and almost impassable at some points. The Customs and Immigration/Emigration services at Ugandan side need great improvement . Apparently , Mirama Hills cannot be a solution to decongesting Gatuna border because of inadequate facilities especially on the Ugandan side. Mr Sabiti Fred, the Mayor of Nyagatare District observes that the imbalances in border facilitations are killing the business potential between his district and Ntungamo district. He also noted that there are over 20 illegal porous border entries between the two districts which are not well monitored and controlled. ìIt is better some of them are legalized and managed to avoid illegal entries and exit that pose serious security concerns and revenue loss to both countries.
Meanwhile, plans are underway to tarmac the Ntungamo Mirama hills road and both Governments are fast-tracking the One Stop Border Post (OSBP) Project-which merges institutionsí services under one roof for better trade facilitation.
Other common issues raised by participants at both meetings were; inadequate sensitisation on the Simplified Trade Regime (STR), delays in clearances at customs, lack of a Trade Information Desk (TID) and inadequate ICT facilities.
In a related development, both delegations reviewed the progress so far made in eliminating Non Tariff Barriers (NTBs) that were earmarked bilaterally in the MOUs. Clearly, all the NTBs that were raised by Uganda against Rwanda have either been eliminated or seriously being worked on. But there is little progress made on elimination of NTBs raised by Rwanda against Uganda like the removal of weighbridges, reduction of roadblocks and checkpoints, the inconveniences caused by removal of number plates when truck breakdown along Ugandan roads, delays at Malaba due to lack of parking yard, and availing pf certificate of origin at border points etc.
Plans are underway to organize a joint NMC (National Monitoring Committee) technical meeting to work on a detailed NTBs progress review report (based on the MOUs) and also draw up revised action plan.
Establishing Border Committees is one easy and fast exercise but operationalizing them effectively to become relevant to intended beneficiaries is another challenging task ahead. Much emphasis was put on establishing Trade Information Desks to sensitize and create awareness about the committees to cross border traders. However, this might be inadequate given the nature and characteristics of the targeted beneficiaries. The busier the committees are-in solving NTBs-related cases, the more relevant they shall become. Thus, thereís need for a comprehensive and suitable communication strategy to ensure that beneficiaries are widely aware of where to go to whenever they encounter NTBs. For effective Monitoring and Evaluation, there ought to be a simplified but smart reporting mechanism by national border committees and Joint Border Committees of the NTBs related cases reported and resolved. This will be very vital in assessing the impact of the committees over time.