A wrangle between Rwanda Standards Board (RSB) and Private Sector Federation (PSF) is likely to cost the economy some 500 jobs and billions in tax revenues.
Since April 2014, RBS has been pushing local gin manufacturers, a budding industry of about 10 players, to start packaging their products in glass bottles of volumes ranging from 250ml, 500ml, 750ml and 1,000ml.
The manufacturers currently use plastic bottles (polyethylene terephthalate) in packaging of the gin products mainly consumed by low income earners with the price of the smallest gin bottle costing less than Rwf400.
The standards body claims that the plastic bottles are poisonous, hence pose health risks to consumers. RSB has thus given the manufacturers until next month to have complied.
The claim that plastics are poisonous is contested by the manufacturers, who contend that RSB has no scientific evidence.
Also, at the centre of disagreement are claims by the industry players that RSB failed to involve them in the decision making process as required by law and is only pushing the controversial standard down their throats.
In essence, packaging in glasses means manufacturers have to abandon their current production lines which some producers claim, they allegedly acquired on the advice of RSB authorities, a claim the standards body vehemently denies.
According to RSB director-general Dr Mark Cyubahiro Bagabe, they couldn’t have sanctioned the manufacturers to use plastic packaging well knowing that it poses health risks to consumers.
Nonetheless, the gin makers say they are ready to eat a humble pie and comply with RSB demands on condition that they are given enough time of at least three years to migrate from the plastic packaging to glasses instead of just eight months.
The gin producers have been engaging RSB through PSF’s advocacy department that was until recently being headed by Antoine Manzi. Although they managed to get the deadline extended, the two parties have failed to reach a mutual agreement for a lasting solution.
In principle, the industry players concede that glass bottling is better than the plastics but they disagree with the claim that plastics are poisonous to consumers.
After failing to reach consensus, PSF petitioned the Ministry of Trade and Industry to intervene on behalf of its members.