The East African private sector has issued a statement urging EAC Heads of States to fast track the admission of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) into the East African Community (EAC).

The private sector tabled these recommendations through the East Africa Business Council (EABC), as among the issues to be considered in the Ordinary Summit of the EAC Heads of State.

The private sector further advised EAC Presidents embrace to a coordinated approach in responding to COVID-19. Among the recommendations was the adoption of the EAC Open Skies Policy and come up with solutions to persistent Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs), in the Summit slated for 27th February 2021. This is in a move set to improve the business environment in the region, and rebound an economy embattled by the pandemic.

According to a study conducted by EABC in collaboration with GIZ Creating Perspectives last year the value of goods imported in the DRC in 2019, stood at USD 6.6 billion. However, EAC exports to the DRC in 2018, stood at USD 855.4 million, representing 11.5 % of total DRC imports while China dominated as the top exporter with a 31.2% share.

“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 Mutuku Mathuki.

Uncoordinated approach on the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new trade barriers, causing congestions at EAC border points, increased cargo transit time and escalated cost of doing business. Cargo transit time more than doubled in the Northern corridor between January and September 2020.

Intra-EAC trade contracted due to COVID-19 and is worsened by the persistent NTBs related to Rules of Origin, and import bans that deny market access of products made in East Africa.

“We urge the EAC Heads of State to direct relevant Government bodies to fast track bilateral and diplomatic engagements to solve these persistent trade disputes and NTBs and finalize the operationalization of the EAC Trade Remedies Committee. This will improve intra-EAC trade and economic resilience amid COVID-19,” added Dr. Mathuki.

Implementation of the Open Skies for cargo in the EAC will increase connectivity, improve consolidation and boost export of fresh products (horticulture & fish) to international markets amid the pandemic. EABC is also calling for the implementation of the EAC Regulations on Liberalization of air transport services to reduce air ticket and freight costs.

EABC is also calling for the adoption of the One Network Area (ONA) model by all EAC Partner States, to the high cost of telecommunications in the region.