Keynote address by Hon. Minister Valentine RUGWABIZA at World Export Development Forum 2015, 20th October, 2015 – Doha Qatar
Distinguished Delegates and Guests,
All protocol observed,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I wish to thank ITC and the State of Qatar – co-organisers of this year’s edition of the World Export Development Forum (WEDF). The theme “Sustainable trade: Innovate, Invest, and Internationalize” is a timely and relevant theme for many of us in this room, which I will focus on shortly. Thank you Arancha Gonzalez for the honour of this invitation to address this audience. I also wish to thank the Ministry of Finance of the State of Qatar and the Qatar Development Bank (QDB) for co-hosting this year’s World Export Development Forum. Thank you for your kind hospitality. It is a real pleasure to be in Doha.
Last year, the World Export Development Forum took place in Africa for the first time, hosted by my own home country, Rwanda! Today, we are hosted by Qatar – a country with a remarkable identity and impressive economic growth.
The focus of last year’s Forum was on unlocking the potential of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises and supporting employment through trade. SMEs are at the heart of economic activity in any nation of the world – from G20 countries to the Gulf Cooperation Council, to Least Development Countries. SMEs are the grassroots of economic activity and key to a country’s economic transformation and to achieving prosperity.
For SMEs, sustainable business models are essential, and their success is underpinned by innovation – which is not merely technological but encompasses new forms of raising capital and policy design – all nurtured by adequate investments.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
This Forum comes at a timely moment. Its focus on sustainability resonates with the newly agreed upon Sustainable Development Goals. The newly agreed SDGs lead us in the right direction in terms of maintaining our focus on long-term gains from economic and social development, to be equitably shared. The links between trade and growth are known and well-established. But, while we still work and strive towards balancing our annual accounts and economic targets in the short run; the SDGs invite us to focus on the mid to long-term horizon. What this tells us is that deeper integration of our communities through investment in innovation, inclusiveness in connectivity – are central to our sustainable growth and development.
Deeper and closer integration of economic communities such as the Gulf Cooperation Council and the East African Community will open up new trade and investment opportunities to encourage sustainable growth, thereby creating new jobs and prosperity for millions.
However, this will not be easy given the challenging reality we are confronted with. For example, the International Labour Organization tells us that youth today are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults, and almost 73 million young people worldwide are currently looking for a job. We cannot allow this potential, energy, and these lives to continue unfulfilled. On gender equality for economic opportunities, we must remember that not only is it a matter of social justice, but it is something that makes perfect sense from an economic standpoint. A recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that achieving full gender equality in economic participation would increase global GDP by 26 percent in ten years’ time – approximately the size of the US and Chinese economies combined. I see these figures as the perfect example of how “sustainability” does not slow economic growth. On the contrary, it strengthens it.
In all this, one constant necessity is regional integration. The reality of today’s globalised world calls for a move away from the atomistic model of nations competing against each other. In an increasingly interconnected world characterised by strong competition in product and service markets as well as in attracting foreign capital, countries and economic communities today need to come together. While we have seen the rise of truly global value chains in the past two decades, integration cannot happen merely through business contracts. This does not mean I do not believe in the vital role played by the private sector in building a strong regional economy.
Quite the opposite, I have always welcomed the inclusion of private sector players in the policy debate. However, legal and physical barriers still hinder the potential for global growth, and it is the responsibility of all of us policymakers to remove those barriers. Allow me to highlight various achievements within the East African Community, which are a concerted effort between policy makers and the private sector to remove barriers to integration.
- Within the EAC, there exists free movement of Goods, people, labor, services and capital across borders. This is made possible by the use of IDs and Voter cards to travel across the 3 countries;
- The use of a Single Tourist Visa within the EAC has boosted tourism significantly;
- One Area Network (soon to include data and mobile money) is facilitating increased communication and transactions across the region.
I am here with you today not only to speak of sustainable growth, SME development, and gender equality as vague, abstract concepts. I am also here to tell you a story, of which I am a part, together with colleagues here as well as millions of other East Africans. It is a story of how far we have come following an ideal of development and inclusion that is not dissimilar to what we are discussing in this Forum. Allow me to share the experience of Rwanda and of the East African Community in shaping a sustainable growth model through openness and cohesion.
Rising from the ashes of the old East African Community which collapsed in 1977, today’s EAC benefits from strong support at all levels, from policymakers to citizens in every Partner State, and importantly, active private sector and civil society engagement. The idea of African unity is still strongly embedded in the Community’s vision, founded on the principle of “one people, one destiny”.
We have also made great efforts to be very pragmatic. These efforts have paid off quite well. The EAC is the fastest growing regional bloc in Africa in the past decade and is well on track to continue this trend. Partner States consistently appear in the top positions in Africa and globally for governance, doing business, competitiveness, financial inclusion, and inclusive growth. We have built strong institutions making them accessible to citizens and designing them mindful of lessons from other regional blocs.
Rwanda’s accession to the EAC and its Customs Union revolutionised the country’s trade patterns. We extended the preferential trade regime to all our neighbours, thereby reallocating trade flows according to efficiency and strengthening ties with Uganda and Tanzania in particular. Today, the EAC is Rwanda’s largest trading partner, and the whole region is well above the average in its contribution to intra-African trade.
Additionally, Rwanda and the region have projected themselves towards the Gulf and Middle Eastern markets. Recent links to Dubai and engagement with the Gulf Cooperation Council are the result of an export-oriented mindset and a pragmatic approach to consolidate our global presence and attract further investment.
The EAC is a relatively new player in the global dynamics of trade, investment, and policy. Let us be honest – challenges remain and we confront them regularly. The lack of competitiveness of certain sectors of the economy will need to be addressed as part of our efforts to achieve sustained growth and middle-income status. We know what needs to be done: invest in infrastructure, raise health and education standards, create deeper and more innovative financial markets, diversify exports and invest in SMEs. While there is no recipe on how to achieve these outcomes; an essential ingredient is closer and deeper integration among Partner States.
With a range of policy instruments already in place and others currently being developed, the EAC is eager to promote exports at all levels, from multi-million dollar companies to small informal traders. While we as policymakers try to satisfy the needs of the private sector, we also focus on improving the livelihoods of those communities where trade is a way of life. Small-scale traders from border communities throughout the region now benefit from what is called a Simplified Trade Regime. This regime supports the very people whose livelihoods depend on exports. Given that most of these traders are women (approximately 75%), we have a unique opportunity to facilitate income-generating activities and couple them with social and economic equality for women.
Rwanda and the EAC have come a long way in opening to the world and building a sustainable growth path. I would like to borrow some words from HE the President of the Republic of Rwanda, when he gave a speech at the opening session of last year’s Forum. “We should always believe in ourselves and be convinced that ultimately it is us who hold the key to our own development. And we should see competition as an opportunity to measure ourselves against the world, rather than a problem.” Rwanda will continue walking along its development path convinced that regional integration is a platform to emerge in the world rather than a burden, and we continue to work hard to leverage our individual strengths and fulfil our potential.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The breadth, depth and pragmatism of our discussions and solutions envisaged here in Doha should mark the implementation of SDGs, for, by and with businesses. Only implementation will bring about the lasting transformation we collectively enshrine and have put in motion.
I thank you.