unctad.org | Discussion on Covid-19 with TradeMark East Africa (TMEA)
Statement by Mr. Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
Discussion on Covid-19 with TradeMark East Africa (TMEA)
[Virtual Discussion]
06 Apr 2020

COVID-19 needs a coordinated global response, protecting vulnerable developing countries, ensuring short-term solutions do not create long-term economic problems. Developing countries in Africa are at particular risk as they rely on external supply for their medicines, with more than 90% of medications originating outside the region in developed countries.

In East Africa it is likely that mitigation measures, like isolation and lockdowns will be harder to enforce. Large urban populations require large scale inputs, often supplied by complex (global) value chains. As these value chains have broken down, there have been reports from East Africa of people moving on mass to rural areas that offer subsistence opportunities. These movements will promote the spread of the virus. Low wage or vulnerable workers will be unable or unwillingly to abide by the shutdown of economic activity. Recent reports outline clashes between people and the enforcement authorities, e.g. in Mombasa.

The impact on the services segment of economy, particularly in tourism and transport is massive, and many tourist dependent jobs are low-skilled low-paid jobs and performed by women. Women small and micro entrepreneurs may find it particularly hard to operating their businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic curtails economic activity. Within the next 12 months vulnerable micro and small entrepreneurs, especially women, will need support.

The current environment also exposes consumers to deceptive labelling or sale of products (false claims deceiving consumers that products may decrease the risk of having COVID-19), as well as unfair and abusive practices such as the excessive pricing of certain food and non-food products, which people would tend to stock in a penury situation

RECs are using creative solutions to stop the spreading of the virus. For example,  a statement from the EAC said that the committee deployed mobile laboratories and testing kits in 4x4 vehicles that have been fitted with laboratory and testing equipment. The 4x4s are being dispatched from EAC headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania.

While it is still too early to evaluate thoroughly the impact of COVID-19 on customs, our ASYCUDA program has been supporting countries adjusting to the situation:

  • In Comoros, a 30% relief on taxes and duties was easily implemented.
  • In D.R. Congo, Madagascar and Rwanda our systems have helped implement new solutions for clearing food supplies, vital medical supplies and protective equipment.
  • We’re encouraging all trade operators to use online services and customs-centric Single Window (electronic submission of customs documents and supporting documents, e-payment, prepayment…) when and where the infrastructure allows it.

COVID-19 has highlighted the value of digital solutions for maintaining trade and supporting the economies of countries, especially at low levels of development. With travel bans and social distancing measures being adopted, digital solutions are increasingly explored as a way to continue some of the economic and social activities remotely. Digitalization is allowing telemedicine, telework and online education, increased communications in the lockdown situation, enabling shopping online as well as generating more data on the expansion of the virus and helping information exchanges for research.

Donors and partners need to react as well by reviewing and re-balancing ODA with a shift from loans to grants for LDCs. Much higher public debt levels are likely to become a permanent feature of African economies, but should also be accompanied by private debt cancellation. As in other parts of the world, African economies should have the resources to deploy the governments balance sheet to protect their people during national emergencies.


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