Malawi and other states in the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa) block saw a combined $905 million in intra-Comesa exports go down the drain in 2020 alone due to the Covid pandemic.
This is contained in a research paper by Adam Willie, Principal Economist in the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Enterprise Development of Zimbabwe titled ‘Digitalising Trade in the Wake of Covid in Comesa’, presented to the 8th Annual Comesa Research Forum.
Figures provided show that losses vary from one country to another, with Egypt and Kenya losing in excess of $100 million, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia losing in the range of $60 million to less than US$100 million.
Losses for the rest of the member states were below $20 million, according to the report.
Malawi was not spared. Sectors such as tourism, wholesale and retail trade were among the heavily affected.
In an interview Thursday, Ministry of Trade spokesperson Mayeso Msokera said trade with other countries was squeezed during the period under review as most countries impose lockdowns.
“Supply chain for imports and exports was disrupted and this led to a decline in trade volumes,” Msokera said.
Malawi’s external position improved slightly in the first three months of 2021, but not necessarily buoyed by improved exports. It was due to a sharp decline in imports.
The values for both exports and imports dropped in the first quarter, with imports declining more than exports, leading to the narrowing of the trade deficit.
Figures from the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) show that import outlays declined by $60 million to $693.1 million while exports dropped by $2.7 million to $201.6 million in the same period.
Meanwhile, the researcher has pointed at the need for a robust legal framework that supports digitalising trade, an area in which the region was found wanting.
The findings imply that the new norm of Covid will continue to harm intra-Comesa trade.
Considering the worst socio-economic crisis brought about by the pandemic, Comesa member states are working towards ensuring continued trade.
The block is implementing the Simplified Trade Regime, an arrangement which facilitates easy movement and clearance of goods and services by small-scale cross border traders.