Discusses key economic indicators and trade statistics, which countries are dominant in the market, the U.S. market share, the political situation if relevant, the top reasons why U.S. companies should consider exporting to this country, and other issues that affect trade, e.g., terrorism, currency devaluations, trade agreements.
Last Published: 6/26/2017
Rwanda is a small but growing market, with a population of 11.8 million people and a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of USD 8.096 billion dollars.  Rwanda’s economy grew by an average of 8 percent annually from 2002 to 2012, before slowing to 4.6 percent in 2013, in the aftermath of international donor aid cuts and suspensions.  The economy has since rebounded with 6.9 percent growth in 2015 and 5.9 percent growth in 2016. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects Rwanda’s GDP to grow between 6-7 percent in 2017 and 2018.  There are many positive big picture economic signs:  inflation remains below 8 percent (pushed up from 5% in 2016), the country maintains its reputation for low corruption, Rwanda's debt-to-GDP ratio, at 40 percent, is relatively low, and the percentage of foreign assistance in the country’s annual budget has dropped from over 80 percent a decade ago to 38 percent in 2016/2017 National Budget.  Rwanda enjoys relatively high rankings in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index, which ranked Rwanda 59th out of 190 economies in the 2016 report—second-best in sub-Saharan Africa behind Mauritius.
Leading sectors include energy, agriculture, trade and hospitality, and financial services. Rwanda’s economy is overwhelmingly rural and heavily dependent on agriculture.  Strong growth in the services sector, particularly construction and tourism, has contributed to overall economic growth.  GDP per capita was USD 697 in 2015, according to the World Bank.  The government’s economic priority is turning Rwanda into a regional trade, logistics, and conference hub.  Pillars of this strategy include the construction of several new international business class hotels and a convention center in downtown Kigali, and expanding and investing in the fleet for the national carrier RwandAir.
Rwandan exports  increased by 7.4 percent year-on-year in 2016, reaching USD 621.6 million according to UN ComTrade data. Commodities, particularly gold, tin, tantalum, tungsten, tea, and coffee, generated over 48 percent of Rwanda’s export revenue.  Rwanda earned USD 73.5 million from tea exports in 2016, a nine percent increase from 2015.  Over the same period, coffee accounted for USD 59.5 million worth of exports, down seven percent from the previous year.  Major markets for coffee exports are the United States and Europe, while the Middle East and Pakistan are the main buyers of Rwandan tea.  Tourism was, for the first time in 2016, the country’s leading foreign exchange earner, with total revenues estimated at USD 390 million in 2016, according to the National Bank of Rwanda.  This is due to successes in leisure tourism, which is the highest income generating sector, and followed by business tourism – Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events (MICE).
Rwanda’s small industrial sector contributes around 14 percent to GDP and employs less than three percent of the population.  The services sector – including tourism - generates almost half of GDP (47 percent) and has grown at an average annual rate of nine percent in recent years.  Rwanda is highly import-dependent, and the Rwandan government faces chronic and increasingly large current account deficits.  In 2016, imports totaled USD 1.778 billion, a four percent decrease from 2015.  Principal imports included electrical machinery and parts; electronic equipment and parts; machinery appliances and parts; vehicles and accessories; cereals and other food stuff; pharmaceutical products; cement and construction equipment including iron and steel; and energy and petroleum products.  China, Europe, Uganda, Kenya, India, the United Arab Emirates, and Tanzania are among Rwanda’s major suppliers.

U.S.-Rwanda bilateral trade is growing.  Rwandan exports to the United States more than doubled in value between 2010 and 2014.  U.S.-Rwanda bilateral trade in 2016 totaled USD 99.02 million (USD 74.6 million in exports to Rwanda, USD 26.4 in imports from Rwanda).  U.S. exports in 2016 were up 422 percent from 2015 levels.  Top U.S. exports to Rwanda include aircraft and parts; mechanical and electrical machinery and related parts; vehicles; medical equipment; pharmaceutical products; and telecommunications equipment.
Only four percent of Rwanda’s total goods exports in 2016 went to the United States.  In 2016, USD 1.22 million in total Rwandan exports to the United States came under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), primarily travel goods, hand bags, textiles, arts and crafts (up from USD 435,000 in 2015).  This represented over a 150 percent increase compared to 2015 exports under AGOA.
In 2007, Rwanda joined the East African Community (EAC).  Rwanda is also a member of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).  Rwanda is the only nation in the region to have concluded a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States.  Rwanda has also concluded a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with the United States.  In 2009, Rwanda became the newest member of The Commonwealth.
Rwanda is playing a leading role in the Northern Corridor initiative, which includes Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, and Ethiopia as core members and the DRC, Burundi, and Tanzania as observers.  Rwanda is also at the forefront of the Central Corridor initiative, which also includes Burundi, DRC, Tanzania, and Uganda.  Unlocking some of the larger infrastructure projects, especially rail transportation, envisioned under the Central and Northern Corridor initiatives would help to substantially reduce the cost of conducting business and transporting goods across borders in the region.
Rwanda benefits from low violent crime rates; its strong police and military provide a security umbrella that minimizes potential criminal activity and political conflicts.  Leading reasons to consider the Rwandan market for U.S. export expansion include:
  • Sustained high economic growth: Strong average year-on-year GDP growth albeit from a low base, relatively low inflation, low (but growing) debt-to-GDP ratio;
  • Low corruption:  One of Africa’s four least corrupt nations and 50th in the world in the Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perception Index;
  • Easy to start a business: Top global consistent reformer since 2008 (World Bank Doing Business Report), 2nd easiest place to do business in sub-Saharan Africa.  Investors can register a business online or in person in as fast as six hours through the Rwanda Development Board.
  • Access to markets:  Rwanda’s market of 11.8 million people has a growing middle class, plus a market and customs union with a market potential of 162 million consumers in the East Africa Community (EAC).  Close access to the Eastern DRC market of approximately 35 million people.
  • Untapped investment opportunities:  Potential opportunities for investment are particularly attractive in the following sectors: infrastructure, energy, agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, information and communication technology, mining, financial services, real estate, and construction. 
Summary of Basic Economic Statistics (2015/2016 figures)
Population Total :11,809,295 (2017 projections)
Real GDP growth :5.9 percent (2016)
GDP at current prices :
USD 8.096 billion (2015 World Bank)
RWF 6,618 billion (2016NISR)
GDP per capita:USD 697 (2015 World Bank
Consumer price inflation:CPI increased by 6.7 percent on average between April 2016 and April 2017.
Total Exports*:USD 621.6 million (2016)
Total Imports*:USD 1.778 billion (2016)
Exports to the USA*:USD 26.4 million (2016)
Imports from the USA* :USD 74.6 million (2016)
Exchange rate:827.5 RWF on May 11, 2017
*Source: UN Comtrade Database, May 15, 2017

Prepared by our U.S. Embassies abroad. With its network of 108 offices across the United States and in more than 75 countries, the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. Locate the U.S. Commercial Service trade specialist in the U.S. nearest you by visiting http://export.gov/usoffices.

Rwanda Trade Development and Promotion