The Sunday Mail
The recently held Rwanda-Zimbabwe Trade and Investment conference is a game-changer set to transform the economies of the two countries if the enthusiasm displayed over the four-day meeting that ended last weekend is anything to go by.
Trade between the two has been low over the past few years but activity has begun to pick up following the establishment of embassies in either country two years ago.
This has given impetus to the drive to consolidate the economic ties between the two countries. Zimbabwe and Rwanda have so much to learn from each other as they seek to prop the economies.
Government officials and business executives from both countries expressed keenness to strengthen ties and ensure any barriers are overcome.
The Ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Industry and Commerce, Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and Hospitality from the two countries, heads of ZimTrade and the Rwanda Development Board, the heads of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries and the Rwanda Business Federation , the Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency, the Standards Association of Zimbabwe and their Rwandan counterparts and other government and business executives were in agreement that the two countries had more to gain from improved ties.
At least 102 company executives and 28 government officials from Rwanda side attended the conference while Zimbabwe had 70 business executives and 15 Government officials.
These numbers demonstrated the eagerness to do business between the Southern African country and its East African counterpart.
In an interview on the sidelines of the meeting, Zimtrade chief executive Mr Allan Majuru described the conference as a huge success.
He said already, deals running into millions of dollars had been secured in tourism, construction, agriculture and other sectors. These would be quantified soon.
The signing of five Memoranda of Understanding between the two countries paved the way for more active engagements.
The MOUs were in Agriculture and Livestock Development, Environment and Climate Change, Information and Communication Technology and e-government, Tourism and Business Events, and one between the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries and Rwandas Private Sector Federation.
“For us to gather here is a success, especially in this Covid-19 era. It is very rare to see all these people coming here. The delegation of private sector players here has been amazing. We have at least 70 from Zimbabwe and the number could have been more than 150 were it not for Covid-19. On its part we have had at least three ministers coming from the Government and other officials. This is huge.
“Commitment by our two Presidents and, particularly the establishment of embassies in Harare and Kigali, have created a great platform to do business. Already these two embassies have done much work. What they have managed in two years would have ordinarily taken five years or more,” he said.
ZimTrade, the Rwanda Development Board and AB Communications organised the conference which was initially slated for early last year before Covid-19 took its toll.
“The conference was a culmination of a Memorandum of Understanding signed in March between Zimtrade and the Rwanda Development Board.
“Opportunities are limitless here. The two countries are landlocked but land-linked. We want to also use Rwanda to enter this region (East Africa). We were recently in Kinshasa, Burundi and the Central African Republic.
“What we are simply doing is creating platforms for ease of doing business. For me here in Rwanda horticulture, fast-moving consumer goods, tourism, construction, education and other areas present great opportunities for Zimbabwe.
He stressed the need to spruce up boarder logistics in the countries between Zimbabwe and Rwanda to allow smoother transportation of products. Rwanda is 2 776 kilometres from Zimbabwe and the journey takes 10 to 12 days by road.
Bank of Kigali’s Mark Halzman, who is also CBZ Bank chairman said the two countries’ financial sectors had the muscle to facilitate transactions and funding requirements by businesses in the two countries.
“The two amazing Presidents of the two countries are incredibly inspiring. You can safely and comfortably do business in the two countries,” he said.
Rwanda Development Board chief executive Mr Pacifique Tuyishime said Rwanda’s economy was on a roll and its fast growth (averaging 7,2 percent annually), low risk, business friendly environment and Launchpad into the region would augur well for Zimbabwe.
Rwanda, which churned out at least 50 000 graduates from 26 universities every year, had a wide human resource base.
“Rwanda has access to African and global markets strong trade agreements. Rwanda connects to the world,” he boasted.
He said trade and investment opportunities were available in manufacturing, infrastructure, agriculture and agro-processing, knowledge and housing and real estate, among others.
Rwanda is placed second in Africa on ease of doing business while it tops the continent in terms of safety. This has made the country attractive to investment.
In her presentation, ZIDA chief operating officer Duduzile Shinya gave a snapshot of Zimbabwe as an investment destination, saying the country was implementing ease of doing business reforms to promote a thriving and robust private sector.
“Significant work has been done and continues to be done as evidenced by the improvement in the country’s ease of doing business ranking which has resulted in Zimbabwe being one of the top performers in the region,” she said.
The people were Zimbabwe’s most valuable asset, she said. Abundant natural resources, good climate and geographical centrality made this country a competitive investment destination.
Standards Association of Zimbabwe director-general Eve Gadzikwa said her organisation and the Rwanda Bureau of Standards were keen to play their part in strengthening bilateral relations. A Mutual Recognition Agreement was set for signing soon.
“We want to be the enablers of business. One of the challenges is that companies are being affected by technical barriers. As tariffs go down, technical barriers go up. So we bridge the gap by strengthening bi-lateral relations and agree on mutual areas of cooperation.”
She urged increased coordination between private sector bodies to build a stronger Zimbabwe brand.
In separate interviews, the Minister of Industry and Commerce Dr Sekai Nzenza, Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu were in agreement the conference had been worthwhile.
“The opportunities between Zimbabwe and Rwanda are immense, particularly in the area of manufacturing and tapping into natural resources.
“There is great scope in intra-Africa trade, particularly with the Africa Continental Free Trade Area,” she said.
This was in line with the National Develoment Strategy 1. Minister Ndlovu said tourism would benefit immensely through synergies between the two countries.
“Already we have tangible outcomes from engagements over the past few days. We should now work on a uni-visa between the two countries. There is no need for individual visas. We will wait for the Cabinet approvals.
“We are also looking for aspects of joint promotions. Tour operators from Rwanda will be visiting Zimbabwe very soon,” he said.
Rwandan Ambassador to Zimbabwe James Musoni said the conference was a huge success.
“It gives us confidence that there is a lot we can do together.
“Our next step is to follow up on agreed issues and be innovative and see even other areas we have not yet explored,” he said.
Zimbabwe would host the next trade and investment conference during the first quarter of next year. However, a number of Rwandan business executives were keen to come over before this year ends.