Rwanda Food and Drug Authority (RFDA) has agreed to reconsider reviewing a circular directing all processed food and beverage products to be registered by the end of march 2020.
In the regulations released in 2019, the RFDA had given directives for all importers and exporters of food and beverage products to register their products but with a service fee charged on registration except for products with a short shelf lifetime like bread, fresh foods and vegetables.
In a reminder circular released last month, RFDA set a deadline of 31st march to do so, but required that the companies meet the import and export product registration requirements which also include acquiring premise certificate and.
For instance, exporters were required to pay a fee from Rwf 100,000 to Rwf1million for five years for a product registration, and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) license for three years – Rwf200, 000.
Importers were asked to pay between $150-$1500 for registration of their products for five years, plus annual retention of $50, and in case of a minor product alteration $50 and $100 for major alteration.
For example someone who imports five cocoa products which include chocolates and cocoa power is required to pay a registration of Rwf200,000 per product. This means that if they have six cocoa products they would be required to pay six times that charge (Rwf1.2m).
This got worse for imports of beers, wines and plant-based alcoholic drinks from different manufacturers meaning that they would have to pay Rwf500, 000 which is multiplied by the number of the brands imported.
The FDA said, after the regulation of food and drug domain was removed from Rwanda Standards Board (RSB), it has stepped up safety and regulating the food and beverage market which is invaded by counterfeit and an increase in cancer related diseases.
For example FDA says that though Rwanda lacks accurate data on diseases caused by counterfeit food, but food poisoning cases increased from 410 in 2016 to 710 cases in 2017 but reduced to 176 in 2019.
“This is a big issue for us as a country. We don’t want our country to be a dumping place, and where citizens will suffer from food related diseases because of counterfeits. That is why we are regulating the food sector,” said Dr. Charles Karangwa, RFDA Director General.
However this explanation didn’t sit calm for most foreign and local food processing and beverage importers, as many said the fees were too expensive and threatened to close shop or lay off staff in order to stay relevant.
In a consultation with disgruntled business owners in Kigali this Wednesday February 6, 2020, both sides tabled their arguments for more than four hours of debate.
RFDA argued it was for safety standards and setting a global standard, but business owners insisted service fees were high and could hamper doing business in the country, subsequently affecting investments and visit Rwanda.
“This adds to a cocktail of taxes and administrative fees, yet they still pay an already existing one percent 1% fee charged by FDA on each consignment exported or imported. Maybe you should put a fixed fee for all these requirements,” said Vanessa Fifi, of Kayonza distributors.
Some wanted the government to scrap or exempt the fees for services for at least a year, reduce the charges or consider benchmarking Rwanda’s FDA on other global and regional standards.
Desire Musangwa, RFDA Division Manager said that the fees were benchmarked on the regional and global standard practice, which he said “was cheap compared to the rest of the region.”
After hours of debate on this subject, RFDA and investors agreed on a sticking to the deadline but special cases on registration will be handled separately, and also consult with the private sector federation to have one on one consultation to possible revise the fees.
“We were scared when the circular was out and had thought of closing business. But this time now we are moving in a right direction and we hope we can go further,” said Mauro Pavesi, managing director Wine Club a wine importing firm with a turnover of Rwf600million.