THE East African Community (EAC) trade bloc is set to admit Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as its seventh member on Tuesday, the EAC said, adding a population of 90 million people to its common market.
The EAC common market, which consists of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, was set up in 2010 to allow the free movement of goods and people across borders, and is one of the most advanced trading blocs on the continent.
‘It represents a real opportunity for us, in view of the strategic position of our country, to be part of this sub-regional organisation,’ Patrick Muyaya, spokesman for the DRC’s government, told Reuters.
The country, which produces minerals including copper and cobalt, in demand for battery vehicles, and diamonds, will join a common market of close to 200 million people with a combined annual economic output of $193bn as of 2019.
Despite its relative success, the EAC common market has suffered from long delays in clearance of goods at borders, as governments on either side insist on checks by multiple agencies including the tax authorities, plant health inspectorates, departments of human health, livestock control and forestry.
EAC-based businesses, including Kenya’s top lender Equity Group, have established operations in DRC in anticipation of its integration into the trade bloc.
The group bought a majority stake in the Banque Commerciale du Congo in 2020, extending its footprint in a market that, in terms of financial inclusion, resembles Kenya in the 1990s, with just 6 percent of the population covered by banks, according to Equity.
Late last year, Equity organised a trade mission to Congo, composed of Kenyan traders, firms and investors, which generated a deals pipeline of more than $1bn, Equity said last week, adding that underscores the opportunities.