Rwanda: US trade to be strengthened

Focus Media (Kigali) | 30 April 2009

Rwanda: U.S. Trade to Be Strengthened

Sam Ruburika

In 2006, Rwanda and the United States signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), aimed at expanding bilateral trade and giving Rwanda the opportunity to take advantage of the US market through duty-free exports.

As a result of the agreement, the trade between the two countries has significantly increased: in 2008, the total bilateral trade was valued at US$ 34.2 million, a 19% increase compared the previous year. Rwandan exports to the USA were valued at US$ 13.7m, a growth of 8%, whereas imports from America went up by 27% to US$ 20.5m.

In the context of TIFA, an annual council meeting is held to assess the progress made. According to Florizelle Liser, the assistant US trade representative for Africa, this year’s gathering, which took place last week, was aimed at discussing global trade systems and finding ways of reducing trade impediments between the two countries.

She said that the meeting also looked at expanding trade so as to increase Rwanda’s "global trading pie." She advised Rwanda to engage in competitive products that can be sold not only on the EAC market but also exported abroad. Amongst others, she mentioned pyrethrum and tea as having the potential of increasing revenue for the country.

She also highlighted sectors that could be improved which include coffee, tea and flowers, where the government could work with both farmers and the private sector.

As for the economic crisis, Liser conceded that is has affected bilateral trade. "There is an impact, but the free fall of the economy looks to be coming to an end," she remarked.

Liser also pointed out that nevertheless American investors are still looking for investment opportunities, particularly in the energy and the agriculture sector. Despite the slowdown in demand for Rwandan exports by US buyers, she said, there was still a lot of interest.

"Starbucks still sells your coffee and Mercy’s your baskets," Liser observed.

She lauded the Rwandan government’s efforts in encouraging the private sector to produce for export, yet remarked that Africa as a whole should get more involved in processing. This, she said, requires improvements in infrastructure such as energy, transport and communication.

"Africa would be more competitive if it invests in infrastructure," Liser said. "It will not happen overnight, and will involve hard work, but it is achievable."

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