The search for an alternative market to China is proving tough for Rwandan traders, who have for long turned to the Asian country for goods and raw materials.
George Niyongabo is part of the Apparel Manufacturing Group (AMG) that is made up of textile manufactures, who have for years put together money and send one person to China to import fabrics.
Business was booming and they even rented stores, offices and manufacturing premises as they sought to serve the Rwandan market, which was left with no affordable alternative to the second hand clothes that were banned in 2016.
But the pandemic means they can no longer access China. “We can’t access the cheaper Chinese fabrics, and we can’t get what the Chinese offer in terms of quality. We are stuck,” said Niyongabo.
“You can’t send money and specifications for the products and be sure that goods will be sent to you. Many have tried and it didn’t go well,” he said.
But Chinese officials defend the restrictions as necessary to contain the spread of Covid-19 and promote e-commerce.
"Sure, the travel restrictions will cause some inconvenience to some people but it is the universal time for all the people in the world to cope with the challenges and continue business in creative and sustainable ways..." said Hudson Wang, economic and commercial counselor at the Chinese embassy in Rwanda.
While India was an alternative for some businesses, the second wave of Covid-19 infections put an end to the idea.
The only option for businesses is to import from Dubai, which they say is very expensive.
“A 40 feet container of high quality fabrics used to be imported at between $100,000 and $150,00 from China in Dubai this increases by 20 percent..” Niyongabo said, adding that regional markets like Kenya are equally expensive.
The company is now unable to supply its corporate clients on time. Theonests Ntagengerwa, the spokesperson of the Private Sector Federation said they are exploring alternative ways of placing orders on Chinese markets.
“We are in the final stages of approving it,” he said, adding that PSF is also exploring sourcing raw materials from markets such as Ethiopia, Turkey and Egypt.