East Africa’s local, regional exports recover after slump

19Feb 2021
The Guardian
East Africa’s local, regional exports recover after slump

LOCAL and regional exports have recovered to pre-Covid-19 levels following a sharp decline in April 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic according to a report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, TradeMark East Africa and African Economic Research Consortium (AERC).

By Collins Mwai

The report showed that by the end of the third quarter, a majority of East Africa Community countries, exports had surpassed 2019 levels.

In Rwanda, exports had grown by 13.6 per cent in comparison to 2019, statistics from the Ministry of Trade and Industry show.

The report's authors noted that recovery of exports was largely driven by non-traditional exports as well as value addition.

"Aggregate exports from the region declined to their lowest values in April 2020. However, they started recovering in the ensuing months. In fact, in the third quarter of 2020, most of the EAC Partner States' exports surpassed their 2019 level," the report noted.

Jonas Munyurangabo, Director General for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, said that Rwanda had experienced the same trade with exports growth driven by non-traditional exports, minerals and re-exports.

He noted that while previously, exports were driven by tea and coffee, in 2020 exports relied on products such as milling products, vegetables, flowers among others.

Munyurangabo noted that among the lessons that were picked from the 2020 pandemic experience is the need to increase attention to intra-regional trade which had proved to be more resilient during the slump.

According to the report, Intra-EAC trade exhibited greater resilience in comparison to extra-EAC trade which has more fragile supply chains and vulnerable global trading systems.

He added that from the trade experience, Rwanda is looking at strengthening logistics chain and supply chain to improve resilience as well as increasingly digitize trade related services such as customs.

Despite reported resilience, the pandemic could have reversed some of the gains made in trade facilitation as ship dwell time and cargo transit was found to have increased. For instance, the transit time from Dar-es-Salaam to various cities in the neighbouring countries more than doubled.

According to Frank Matsaert, TradeMark East Africa Chief Executive, the data from the study also pointed to the need for trade to spur innovation as well as government incentives and support to trade activities.

The report also noted that regional imports have moderated slightly, leading to improved trade balances for the majority of EAC member states. This was partly as a result of the impact of the pandemic on global supply chains and increased production of previously imported goods.

Experts have recommended the need for EAC countries to diversify their economies to avoid excessive commodity export dependence which exposes the regional economy to unnecessary risks.

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