Delivering Sustainable Support to Trade Policy Making: A Practicioner's View in the Case of Rwanda


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    This note outlines the approach taken by the Long Term Technical Assistance (LTTA) of Trade Mark East Africa (TMEA), implemented by Imani Development, within the Rwandan Ministry of Trade and Industry (MINICOM) to providing capacity building and technical assistance.  The approach is built around an understanding that the Ministry of Trade is just one player in a broader network of actors required to develop evidence-based trade policy. A system geared toward good trade policy development includes technical leadership of the process, the ability to harness expertise and inputs from a range of stakeholders, and the ability to reach agreement at political level. The LTTA has therefore focused on strengthening the system rather than focusing on a single department or on individuals. At the outset, a quick capacity audit revealed that while individual staff were knowledgeable, the external trade department as a whole struggled to consistently deliver evidence-based, validated policy. Furthermore, there were, and still are, challenges in the operations of the trade policy network necessary for efficient policy development. Challenges include: precisely defining what decisions are to be made, when they are to be made, what evidence needs to be provided to make the decisions that would best represent the interest of Rwanda, and a lack of understanding amongst stakeholders as to their respective roles.  In response to this challenge, technical support was structured around developing a smarter system with the capacity to deliver effective, evidence-based policy in an efficient and sustainable manner. Effective Effective trade policy should be aligned with, and prioritised according to national development priorities. To achieve this, a comprehensive roadmap for negotiations (negotiation timetable) was first drawn up. Upcoming negotiations are prioritised according to relevance and anticipated level of impact. This allows for advanced planning and preparation.  An effective system also appoints the most appropriate expertise within the system to undertake technical analysis. Dialogue with the private sector should be led through the key private sector representative organisations; revenue implications should be assessed by the Revenue Authority; issues related to product standards are dealt with through the Bureau of Standards etc. In some cases, capacity building is required, in other cases, the stakeholders are more than capable of leading the process. From time to time external experts will need to be brought in to undertake specific work. Efficient An efficient system (1) standardises and strengthens the process for regular and key deliverables, and (2) leverages existing research, avoids duplication of activities and uses the most appropriate individuals in a network to conduct analysis.  Part of our approach to capacity building for efficiency has been very simple. We have worked with our counterparts to identify key and regular deliverables that the external trade department is responsible for. We then developed, with officials, “templates” for standardisation and speeding up the business of government. Crucially, this allows us to train to task rather than offer generic training. There is a wealth of information in existing strategies, policies and nationally validated studies. Our approach to benefiting from existing work has been to distill previous studies and strategies in new areas of work. Older, but still relevant, research is distilled in terms of information, direction and analysis, making it easy for the officials to see what these studies and strategies provide. In our experience to date, it has been important to frame previous work in the context of the key policy questions that officials have to answer in the course of their on-going work. Sustainability Sustainability ensures the system continues to function effectively after assistance is withdrawnIt is a key challenge and one that capacity building in trade policy seems to only rarely meet. We have attempted to build sustainability into our entire approach.  Developing templates and training on the tools needed to complete and update them means the department will be able to provide its key deliverables more efficiently, without outside assistance. Creating an evolving benchmark of policies, strategies and studies in trade policy will help to ensure institutional memory. Sustainability within the External Trade Department has been bolstered through the introduction of a two year Young Professional Programme. Two local, junior economists have been employed by TMEA to work directly under TMEA’s/Imani Development senior technical support team to transition them into full time Ministry positions. The focus of capacity building in Ministry of Commerce must be around building and strengthening the system required to deliver trade policy, drawing on both short- term and long-term technical assistance. The benefit of this approach is that it does not rest upon the capacity of a few individuals, but rather leverages capacity and knowledge across a number of institutions.  Dr. Nick Charalambides is the Director at Imani Development. Armin Lalui is a Consultant at Imani Development.  This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 2, Issue 8 (November 2013).
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