Written by: Rosine Uwamariya, Providence Mukamurenzi and Vincent SafariArticle No. 62 [UNCTAD Transport and Trade Facilitation Newsletter N°87 - Third Quarter 2020]
The corona virus pandemic continues to disrupt businesses and threaten people’s livelihoods and health. Rwanda reported the country’s first case of COVID-19 on 14th March 2020. After confirming 17 cases of the COVID-19 virus, Rwanda was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to order a complete lockdown as one of the prevention measures against the spread of the virus.
Today, the fight of COVID-19 is spearheaded by the top leaders of the Government of Rwanda led by the Prime Minister’s Office with technical lead of the Ministry of Health and other ministries in line with their mandate.
As it was the case elsewhere around the world, the borders between Rwanda and neighbouring countries were closed for people movement but Rwanda continued to facilitate movement of goods and cargo imported and exported at national territory and cargo in transit. New clearance guidelines were issued and published on the Rwanda Trade Information Portal for traders and other stakeholders on how to clear goods while preventing the spread of Covid-19 pandemic with priority given to essential goods (Food, medicine and COVID-19 equipment tools)
Technology has played a big role in managing COVID 19 crisis. Paperwork related to movement of goods, including declaration, assessment and payment of duties, release and clearance of goods is being done through Rwanda electronic Single Window (Resw), which is based on the ASYCUDA technology and this helps to avoid physical contact and allows a big number of key players to work from home.
Despite the efforts put in place to stop the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, challenges were yet to come. This paper discusses the challenges faced by Rwanda in facilitating Trade and the mechanisms put in place to address trade related challenges raised by neighbouring countries and Rwandan traders while implementing health measures limiting the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
Regional initiatives to balance trade facilitation and mitigate health risks
East African Community member states including Rwanda noted that the bloc’s key economic sectors are experiencing a severe slowdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The most hit sectors being agriculture, foreign trade, manufacturing and industry, tourism, hospitality, and entertainment. It is in this regard that EAC Heads of States resolved to put all efforts together to fight COVID 19 and adopted the EAC Regional COVID-19 response plan and its key targeted interventions and also directed the ministers responsible for Health, Trade, Transport and EAC Affairs to ensure that it complements the partner states national COVID-19 response plans.
On 25th of March, the above-mentioned Ministers signed a joint statement containing guidelines on how to handle cargo and truck drivers during COVID-19 pandemic period (EAC Guidelines).
Much efforts are made at the regional level including but not limited to development and adoption of EAC guidelines which have been shared with member states, the establishment of the regional task force and the joint committee to monitor the implementation of the guidelines.
As mentioned earlier, Rwanda continued to facilitate the movement of essential goods either crossing the borders or inside the country. However, it was observed that an increase in Covid-19 new cases is linked to cross border truck drivers’ movement. In this regard, Rwanda introduced new measures including the establishment of Kiyanzi Dry Port near Rusumo border post (Rwanda side) as a quick response to facilitate cross-border cargo and at the same time limit the spread of COVID-19.
Expediting cargo movements while supporting truck drivers at the Kiyanzi dry port
Kiyanzi Dry Port which was a green field located at about 10km from Rusumo Border Post, was created and operationalized as part of the government’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while facilitating continuous movement of cargo across the region. Kiyanzi DP serves as a customs logistical point where trans- border truck drivers can get different services such as sanitary services and accommodation among others.
Clearance procedures that were previously conducted in Kigali have been temporarily relocated to Kiyanzi dry port. The facility has a parking yard that can accommodate 350 trucks and 4 warehouses that accommodate more than 100 containers and handle 150 trucks per day.
In order to expedite the clearance process at Kiyanzi, the site operates as one stop center. All key public and private stakeholders in logistics and clearance of goods are present at KDP. This includes all regulatory agencies, warehouse operators with their equipment to facilitate logistics. The site is equipped with a medical center and accommodation facilities for truck drivers put in place to help containing the pandemic by testing, enforcing sanitary measures, and creating awareness among all players working at both the borders and KDP.
The procedure at KDP is as follows:
Truck drivers are tested for Covid-19 at the border, they are provided with facemasks and briefed about the sanitary measures such as practicing social distancing and washing hands, then they proceed to clear their goods at the newly established Kiyanzi station where their trucks are decontaminated by a team from the Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) and then proceeded to offload cargo at the warehousing facilities.
Trucks carrying relief goods, transit goods, fuel and perishable goods are expedited, and escorted up to the final destination free of charge. This is to make sure that truck drivers only stop at designated points to minimize the risks of physical contact with the community along the routes. This is in line with the EAC joint statement that stipulates that truck drivers should only stop at designated stop overs.
Challenges and lessons learnt
In this difficult period, countries are required to take quick responses to minimize the risks of spreading COVID-19 and limit the potential devastating impact of this pandemic but also facilitate the movement of goods which in the process required to adjust with a few procedures, implement safety measures and innovate new ways to achieve the dual objective.
However, challenges were encountered whereby some players in the logistics services did not fully embrace the new guidelines. One of the measures was that, truck drivers were expected to drive the trucks up to Kiyanzi dry port where they would get customs services or hand over to their counterparts in Rwanda who would take the goods up to their final destination in Kigali or other places in order to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
This measure was put in place after cross border truck drivers and their assistants were increasingly tested positive of COVID-19. The Rwandan authorities together with Tanzanian Authorities held bilateral meetings and together with the industry adapted the measures.
“Kiyanzi Dry Port (KDP) provides a great and effective solution in terms of trade facilitation and prevention of the spread of COVID-19. The site offers digital customs clearance services. Rwanda Electronic Single Window (ReSW) has greatly contributed to facilitate clearance process with very limited physical interaction. The Trade Information Portal has also facilitated transparency and communication of the new guidelines related to the export, import and transit procedures with the national and foreign trade community.
All Customs stakeholders operate at Kiyanzi site including Rwanda Biomedical center. The site further facilitates cargo transporters because they can declare their goods before they load trucks. KDP works 24/7 to make sure that the clearance is quick to allow drivers to return home without delays, Commissioner for Customs, Ms. Rosine said”.
Regarding the prevention of COVID, Kiyanzi Dry Port facilitates to monitor the movement of truck drivers at the dedicated accommodation centers and the site. Establishing dry ports at the entry points minimizes the risks associated with driving long distances which may necessitate physical contact with communities along the roads and spending nights at places that are not safe.
Before the establishment of KDP two months ago, Rwanda had registered the highest number of COVID-19 in a single day and the spike in numbers was attributed to cross-border truck drivers and their assistants. With the establishment of Kiyanzi Dry Port, COVID-19 new cases registered from Truck drivers have significantly reduced, and this is a big achievement. Commissioner for Customs, Ms. Rosine added”
The successful implementation of this initiative is attributed to the good cooperation between countries in facilitating the movement of cargo and a high level of cooperation and commitment between public and private sector to coordinate all efforts in this crisis period of COVID 19. National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) members from various stakeholders have been instrumental in the success of this process. Regional coordination was also very important to harmonize EAC Partner States’ guidelines and to monitor their implementation.
Rosine Uwamariya ¦ Commissioner for Customs Services, Rwanda Revenue Authority ¦ [email protected]
Providence Mukamurenzi ¦ Consultant, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) ¦ [email protected]
Vincent Safari Consultant ¦ Rwanda National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) ¦ [email protected]