The East African private sector is urging the East African Community (EAC) Heads of States to direct relevant Government bodies to fast track the admission of Congo (DRC) into the EAC bloc.
The East African Business Council (EABC) has called upon the regional governments to advance the process of ratifying the request by Congo to join the bloc in a bid to increase trade coverage.
“DRC offers a large market for EAC SMEs to tap into. DRC will in turn benefit from the larger EAC Common Market and Common External Tariff Framework,” said EABC CEO Dr. Peter Mathuki, who assumes his new position as EAC Secretary General effective April 25, 2021.
The opportunities for trade in the DRC are huge for the EAC—the value of goods the country imported in 2019 stood at US$6.6 billion. EAC exports to the DRC in 2018 stood at US$855.4 million, representing 11.5 % of total DRC imports while China dominated as the top exporter with a 31.2% share.
In June 2019, through a letter to the EAC Chairman, Congo officially made a request for its admission into the EAC. This is obviously because the country wants to reap from the benefits presented by the bloc as it has tremendously expanded in the past two decades, growing from the original three partner states which are Kenya Uganda and Tanzania to its present six member states.
The work of the EAC is guided by the Treaty for Establishment of the East African Community which was signed on 30 November, 1999 establishing the community and was entered into force on 7 July, 2000 following its ratification by the original three partner states.
To date, several other countries have joined the bloc which now includes Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan, which joined the trading bloc in April 2016.
According to the outgoing EAC Secretary General, Amb. Libérat Mfumukeko, the desire by other countries to join the six-member bloc is due to the achievements made by the Community over the years that have made it more attractive for investment and in the process raised the living standards of the people of East Africa.
“On the Customs Union, intra-EAC trade has increased from US$2.7 billion in 2016 to US$2.9 billion in 2017 and to US$3.3 billion in 2018.The increase in intra-regional trade can be attributed to the resolution of multiple non-tariff barriers to trade by the Partner States and the establishment and operationalization of 13 one-stop border posts to facilitate the cross-border movement of persons and goods,” he said.
The implementation of the EAC Single Customs Territory has also resulted in drastic reduction in the period taken to clear goods from over 20 days to three (3) days on the Central Corridor and from 21 days to four (4) days on the Northern Corridor.
According to its 2019 census, the population in Congo is 86.79 million people. This provides a huge market to the regional member states.
The World Bank country overview of Congo notes that while its poverty rate has fallen slightly over the past two decades, particularly in rural areas, the DRC nonetheless remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
“In 2018, 72% of the population, especially in the North West and Kasaï regions, was living in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 a day,” World Bank cites.
After reaching 5.8% in 2018, economic growth slowed to 4.4% in 2019, owing to the drop in commodity prices, particularly for cobalt and copper, which account for over 80% of the country’s exports, data from the World Bank shows. The latest sustainability estimates show that the debt risk remains moderate. However, fairly weak revenues are limiting the government’s flexibility to implement fiscal policies aimed at tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently the DRC is making headway against the Ebola epidemic, which has been raging for almost two years in the North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri provinces, where numerous cases and a large number of fatalities have been reported.
Congo is also marred by ongoing conflicts in North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, and Tanganyika Provinces which have caused continuing displacement and affected households’ abilities to access typical livelihood activities according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET).
The UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO has been extended in the country until December 20, 2021, after a Security Council resolution. FEWS NET is a leading provider of early warning and analysis on food insecurity. Created by USAID in 1985 to help decision-makers plan for humanitarian crises, FEWS NET provides evidence-based analysis on approximately 30 countries.
The EAC is currently considering another application by Somalia to join the trading bloc. For Congo, getting backing from the EABC is a good indicator that the regional business community is ready to embrace the country.