East Africa Bloc Becomes $250 Billion Market as Congo Joins

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The Democratic Republic of Congo joined the East African Community, bringing the regional trading bloc’s market size to a quarter of the continent’s population and providing it with access to the Atlantic Ocean.

The mineral-rich nation became the EAC’s seventh member after heads of state agreed to its request to join the $193.7 billion group. The bloc’s common market, which groups 177 million people, provides for free movement of goods, people, labour, services and capital among partner states Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

“Working together, we have more to gain,” Kenyan President and current EAC Chairman Uhuru Kenyatta said after a virtual summit that brought together the community’s six existing members. “We are fully aware of the social and economic benefits realisable from a strong regional bloc in this globalised world.”

Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country by landmass, Congo will provide a corridor for East African nations along the Indian Ocean coastline to connect with the Atlantic Ocean, opening a window to increased intra-African trade. The world’s largest source of cobalt and Africa’s biggest miner of copper, Congo has a population of about 90 million people and a GDP of $54.8 billion.

Congo is led by Felix Tshisekedi since 2019 when he succeeded Joseph Kabila, who had been in power for nearly two decades, the mineral-rich country’s first-ever peaceful transfer of power. The central African nation’s economy is expected to grow 5.6% this year from an estimated 5.7% in 2021, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Upside risks to growth may be driven by higher-than-projected mining activity or higher commodity prices that would strengthen fiscal and external positions, according to the lender.

Higher global food and energy prices from the crisis due to the Ukraine conflict and mineral price volatility pose risks to inflation and growth.

Stronger and bigger regional economic blocs such as the EAC will help advance the African Continental Free Trade Area – a continent-wide free trade area which became operational January this year, according to a study by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

© 2022 Bloomberg