More than 100 British investors are expected to court in Kigali next week for the first-ever UK-Rwanda Business Forum, bringing together captains of trade and industry, investors, and senior government officials for discussions around both business opportunities and business climate in Rwanda.
The forum slated for January 29-31 is also expected to build on the momentum of the current trade volume between both countries, which has doubled over the last five years.
Official statistics indicate that trade between the UK and Rwanda has more than doubled, from $25 million in 2017 to $51 million in 2022.
Last year alone, total trade in goods and services (exports plus imports) between the UK and Rwanda was around $44 million (£35 million) in the four quarters to the end of June 2023, an increase of 9.4 per cent.
The New Times’ Edwin Ashimwe caught up with the British High Commissioner Omar Daair ahead of the forum, where the envoy shared insights and expectations of the upcoming gathering.
Tell us briefly about Britain’s fresh interest in deepening trade and investment ties with Rwanda.
The UK and Rwanda have been friends for long, working together on development.
And because we (UK) didn’t have the same historic relationship with Rwanda that we had with Uganda or Kenya, which used to be British colonies, traditionally the trade relationship with Rwanda has been smaller.
And so what we saw was a real opportunity to help that grow.
And there are a lot of sectors in Rwanda that we think will be of interest to British companies.
The main thing is to really put Rwanda on the map for UK investors, companies, or businesses that may not have known much about Rwanda before. Those respective investors will now come to learn about the offer that there is here.
When I talk to businesses, whether they’re talking about coming to Rwanda, whether they’re talking about coming to other places, what they want is a sound legal environment that they can operate in.
They want a government that is open to foreign investors and that is supportive of companies that move to that particular country.
Do you think that is what is on ground?
I think we really have that in Rwanda. So, I think what they’re going to find are reasons why this country is so high up the ease of doing business rankings.
I think Rwanda is currently second in Africa on those rankings, and that’s really what investors are looking for, coming here and also learning a bit more about the offer that the Government of Rwanda puts on the table.
The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) has a really compelling offer for companies that want to come and invest here, whether it’s the support to help them set up really quickly, you know, you can get your business license in a day or two, whether it’s the ability to do easy banking here and to operate from here to neighbouring countries.
I think all of that kind of business environment that they’re going to find here will help attract British investors.
What are the expectations on the onset?
When we were setting this up we thought, you know, there could be a lot that we cover in here because there are a lot of opportunities here, but we particularly decided to focus on six areas, some where we already have a relationship that we want to grow, some which are relatively new.
So, for example, there are areas such as agriculture and horticulture, which is an area we have a relationship already. A lot of tea and coffee from Rwanda is exported to the UK. But then there are other areas like infrastructure, manufacturing, and critical minerals that we are seeking to grow because what we see in Rwanda is a real business opportunity that hasn’t been fully tapped yet.
And we think it can be tapped for the benefit of, not just British investors, of course, but for the Rwandan economy and for the Rwandan people through creating new jobs, creating new businesses that operate locally.
And we saw these six areas as being the ones with the highest potential for growth.
Talking about critical minerals, Rwanda and the UK have recently joined efforts on several pacts. Why has this been so important?
I think that critical minerals is a really crucial sector and it’s crucial because the sort of minerals that are present in Rwanda and in this region are vital if we are going to reach our climate goals.
If we want to move towards electric vehicles, or we want to move towards greener technology, we will need a lot of those critical minerals.
So it’s something that is of interest, not just to us, but internationally. And there is a good supply here in Rwanda.
And I think at first British companies didn’t know that Rwanda was a good source of this. In the past, I think, you know, some other countries were better known as sources of these minerals.
So, raising the profile of Rwanda has been important. Already some British listed mining companies have been operating here for a while. Players such as Trinity Metals, Power Resources, have been for a while and have been successful.
And so what I always say is that every time you have one successful business or two successful businesses, that attracts many more because they hear the story of how it worked and they get interested too.
President Paul Kagame during the World Economic Forum in Davos met with the leaders of Rio Tinto, one of the biggest mineral companies based in the UK. Does this meeting also set a precedent for further partnerships?
Rio Tinto has decided to set up here and that is potentially game changing because they operate just on a totally different scale, a much larger scale.
So we want to build on that momentum to try and see how we can work together in this important area.
But to also do that in a way that is sensitive to the environment around it.
You know, traditionally, sometimes mining has been seen as a sector that does damage to the environment and one that doesn’t create wealth for the host communities and so on.
But I think what the UK and the Government of Rwanda together with the British businesses here are conscious of is that we need to make sure it is benefiting everybody.
So that’s the sector that I think we will see a lot of interest in. It is a bit hard to say at this stage whether deals will be signed and I wish I could predict all of them.
Some deals may be signed during those few days of the conference, but we’re also realistic that it’s only a few days. So we also hope that it will continue and we are committed to maintaining that kind of momentum and partnership as we go forward.
What would you highlight as some of the opportunities for Rwandan businesses in the UK?
It could be in any of the sectors. For example, in agriculture, we think there is an opportunity to do more. And there’s been a lot of good developments recently.
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For example, the increase in the number of RwandAir flights to London has helped increase the cargo capacity.
Another area where I think there is opportunity to do more is particularly in finance and tech because Rwanda has really been placing itself as a leader in Africa, particularly in the East Africa Community (EAC) as a financial hub with the presence of the Kigali Financial Centre (KIFC).
And then the third area that I would hope to see some increased partnerships and perhaps deals is in what we sort of call green growth or green technology.
So I think all of these things are really helping us show that Rwanda is a sort of forward-leaning, dynamic ambitious country on a lot of this new technology, and that will help us attract more business and more investors.
The reason we (UK) have such a broad relationship is that in the past we have seen very good returns on our development investments in Rwanda.
Corruption is low and when we agree on something with the government we like to think both sides honour those agreements and so that has deepened the relationship.
In the near future we are expecting, for example, a senior member of our government to come for the 30th Commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, among other high-profile visits.
So we see a real rhythm of events and exchanges and partnerships that we want to support.
TAGS: Rwanda-UK Business Forum, Partnership, Development, Investment, Business, RDB, Infrastructure, Manufacturing, Mining, Agriculture