Dar es Salaam — President John Pombe Magufuli yesterday urged Tanzanians and Rwandans to identify investment opportunities that would stimulate business between the two East African Community (EAC) member countries as a way of boosting bilateral trade in general, and their economies in particular.
Dr Magufuli was addressing journalists at State House during a joint press conference after he held talks with Rwanda President Paul Kagame in Dar es Salaam. Mr Kagame was on a one-day working visit to Tanzania. Noting that business transactions between Rwanda and Tanzania rebounded in 2015 after falling for three consecutive years, President Magufuli said "... business between our two countries was not doing well... we have agreed that trade must go up."
In the event, he quoted data showing that annual trade between the two neighbors fell by almost half, from Sh106.54 billion in 2011 to Sh64 billion in 2014.
Dr Magufuli stressed that it was high time Tanzanians and Rwandans looked into investment opportunities, taking that opportunity to reveal that governments of the two countries were already addressing the situation by laying the groundwork for infrastructure development.
"We will also ensure that the business environment is conducive for businessmen. After addressing the infrastructure challenges, we hope that this will help to stimulate trade," he said.
"Last year alone, we managed to increase Rwanda's cargo traffic at the Dar es Salaam port to more than 950 tonnes, an amount we had never handled previously," he revealed.
The two presidents also agreed at yesterday's meeting that, by end of this year, they will have laid a foundation stone for the construction of the standard gauge railways (SGR) from Isaka to Kigali as part of efforts to connect Rwanda to Dar es Salaam port.
Isaka is an inland container terminal (ICT) in western Tanzania which acquired the dry port status in 1999. In effect, this has 'moved' the port of Dar es Salaam nearer to its customers in the landlocked countries of Burundi, Rwanda, DRC and Uganda.
During the construction of the 400-kilometre long standard gauge railway, both Tanzanians and Rwandans will get jobs as a matter of course.
The SGR, which will be jointly financed by the two countries, would also increase trade, especially what with the cost of doing business going down on the back of the new railway system.
To consolidate the trade relations with Uganda, the Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) opened an office in the Rwanda capital Kigali last year - thus enabling Rwandan importers and exporters to carry out all the logistic requirements inside their home country, instead of traveling all the way to Dar es Salaam and back, and so on, and so forth, to attend to the logistics.
This also went hand-in-hand with the opening of the Rwanda inland container depot (ICD) to facilitate the handling and storage of Rwanda's import and export cargo consignments, 70 per cent of which pass through the Dar es Salaam port.
Tanzania has already started construction of the SGR in two phases, from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro (330km), and then from Morogoro to Makutupora in Dodoma (426km) using locally-sourced funds to the tune of Sh7 trillion, President Magufuli revealed.
The president also took the opportunity to aver that Tanzania fully and unequivocally supports President Kagame as chairman of the African Union.
In response, President Kagame thanked his host for supporting his AU chairmanship.
"I am happy to work with President Magufuli and other African presidents. They have given me these responsibilities because they are ready to give me support to enable me accomplish my tasks," President Kagame said.