EU sanctions lift brings new hope for Burundi's economy

Evariste Ndayishimiye, President of Burundi. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • The sanctions by the European Union are said to have brought the economy of the tiny country on its knees, forcing its government to tighten the control of foreign exchange

Arusha. Businesses are picking up in Burundi following the recent lifting of economic sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU).

These include reopening of the currency exchange shops, which were closed at the height of the crisis. A fact finding mission of the East African Business Council (EABC) was told of the positive developments.

“Burundi’s economic outlook is on the right path,” remarked Denis Nshiminimana, an official of the country’s Federal Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

According to him, the Central Bank of Burundi lifted the ban on the currency exchange shops last month.

“These positive developments are set to ease access to foreign exchange for local businesses,” he said.

The EU alongside the United States imposed sanctions against Burundi around 2015/2016 at the height of the political crisis.

That followed extension of tenure by ex-President Pierre Nkurunziza, having been in power for two, five year terms since 2005.

The sanctions brought the economy of the tiny country on its knees, forcing the government to tighten control of forex.

But Mr Nshiminimana said with the lifting of the sanctions, the dire economic challenges could soon be over.

The positive developments, he added, also include reopening of the country’s borders to boost bilateral trade ties.

Burundi, a partner state of the East African Community (EAC), imported goods and services worth $199.8 million from the bloc last year. During the same period, it exported goods worth $15 million, according to International Trade Centre (ITC) statistics.

However, the country’s government officials insist there is room for increased trade within the bloc should the barriers be eliminated.

“EABC should champion advocacy on the elimination of non-tariff barriers,” permanent secretary in the Commerce, Transport, Industry and Tourism ministry, Dr Catherine Faida, told EABC executive director John Bosco Kalisa and his team.

She also called for mutual recognition of standards to boost her country’s exports to the seven nation bloc.

Dr Faida elaborated that public-private partnership has been central to unlocking trade barriers in the region.

Burundi recently won hearts of its cross border trade partners in the EAC after it automated its customs procedures.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected Burundi’s real GDP to increase by 3.3 percent this year from 3.1 percent in 2021.

The country is currently revamping the port of Bujumbura while there are plans to set up two more One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs) with neighbouring countries.

However, Mr Kalisa said there were remaining trade barriers between Burundi and its neighbours that have to be removed.

These include unnecessary road blocks, few operating hours at key border posts and Covid-19 testing, which have been done away with in other countries.

Burundi was also implored to use its national ID as a travel document as well as joining One Network Area for telecommunication.

It was also urged to operationalise the shared Ruhwa OSBP with next door neighbour, Rwanda in order to boost bilateral and regional trade.

EABC also called for easing passage of trucks carrying perishable goods and publishing the list of EAC Simplified Trade Regime to support women cross-border traders.