Congo, the Democratic Republic of the - Country Commercial Guide
Democratic Republic of the Congo - Market Overview
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With an area the size of Western Europe, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa.  It has exceptional natural resources, including minerals (cobalt, copper, etc.), hydroelectric potential, vast arable land, biodiversity, and the world’s second largest tropical forest.  It’s strategically located in Central Africa, which makes it a potentially attractive market for American companies to enter.

The DRC’s economy is largely dependent on the price of commodities, particularly copper, cobalt, tin, tungsten, and tantalum.  Most of the country’s mineral resources remain untapped and are estimated to be worth $24 trillion. The DRC is Africa’s largest producer of copper and the world’s largest producer of cobalt, a strategic metal used in battery production.  Prices for both metals have tumbled in the past year.  Despite its vaunted wealth, the country remains one of the poorest and least developed in the world and has been mired in armed conflict in the east for a quarter century.

After a year of moderate growth, 1.7 percent in 2020, the economic growth picked up to 8.6 percent in 2022, keeping the strong momentum from 2021 (6.2 percent), driven by increased mining production and high world prices for exports such as copper and cobalt.  Growth in the non-extractive sectors was modest, slowing down to 3.0 percent in 2022, from 4.5 percent in 2021, driven by telecommunications, energy, and non-business services.  Greater export revenues could not offset higher food and fuel bills and led to a widening of the current account deficit, estimated at 2.9 percent of GDP in 2022 (from -1.0 percent in 2021).  Nevertheless, foreign direct investment (FDI) and external financing contributed to reserve accumulation, reaching 7.9 weeks of imports in 2022, up from 5.4 weeks a year earlier, and limiting excessive exchange rate volatility.

The medium-term outlook for the DRC is favorable, with growth estimated at 7.5 percent in 2025.  The mining industry is expected to grow further in 2023 and even more by 2024, as the Kamoa-Kakula copper mine enters its second phase of production in late 2022.  However, the country’s economy remains exposed to fluctuations in commodity prices and the growth levels of its major trading partners, which could be disrupted by geopolitical conflicts or other unforeseen challenges.

The economic consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have already exacerbated inflation in sub-Saharan Africa and reduced household consumption due to higher global food and oil prices, with the average inflation rate rising from 9.1 percent in 2021 to 9.2 percent in 2022.  The immediate challenge for the DRC is therefore to maintain political and macroeconomic stability while intensifying ongoing reforms to ensure sustainable and inclusive growth.

The DRC shipped $16.1 billion worth of exported goods to the world in 2021.  This dollar amount reflects a 30.8 percent increase from $12.3 billion in 2017.  Year-over-year, the value of Congolese exports increased by 13.9 percent from $14.1 billion during 2020.

The DRC’s top five exports are refined copper and unwrought alloys, cobalt, unrefined copper, copper ores or concentrates, and crude oil.  Together, this quintet of major exports represents 92.2 percent of the country’s total exports by value.  The latest available data by country show that 97 percent of DRC’s exports were purchased by importers in the following countries:  Mainland China (41 percent of the world total); Tanzania (11.8 percent); Zambia (8.8 percent); South Africa (7.7 percent); Singapore (7.2 percent); United Arab Emirates (6 percent); Switzerland (5.7 percent); Mozambique (4.8 percent); Vietnam (1.6 percent); Hong Kong (1 percent); Belgium (0.6 percent); and Malaysia (0.6 percent).

In 2021, the DRC exported $260 million to the United States.  The main products were refined copper ($211 million), cocoa beans ($19.8 million), and niobium, tantalum, vanadium, and zirconium ores ($12.7 million).  Over the past 26 years, exports from the DRC to the United States have grown at an annual rate of 0.12 percent, from $252 million in 1995 to $260 million in 2021.  The United States exported $216 million to the DRC in 2021.  The top products were poultry meat ($38.5 million); vaccines, blood, antisera, toxins, and cultures ($29.8 million); and delivery trucks ($24.7 million).  Over the past 26 years, U.S. exports to the DRC have grown at an annual rate of 4.21 percent, from $74.1 million in 1995 to $216 million in 2021.

U.S. companies find five main advantages to exporting to the DRC.  These include the fact that the DRC is the fourth most populous country in Africa with a small but growing middle class.  The Congolese have a high opinion of U.S. products and services, especially in terms of value for money.  The DRC is undertaking multi-million-dollar programs to rehabilitate various sectors, including agriculture, energy, construction, basic infrastructure, and transportation.  The DRC’s shift toward the United States and away from China has led to an increase in international development funding and contracting opportunities.  The Government of DRC (GDRC) has created a task force to improve the business climate and is actively seeking to increase trade and foreign investment.  Exporting to the DRC can offer high profit margins because the market is not yet saturated with competition.

The country has three main economic hubs centered on large population centers with significant commercial or industrial bases.  These are:

  • Kinshasa and Kongo Central provinces: Kinshasa is the DRC’s most populous city and its political and economic capital.  It is a vibrant economic hub; most foreign companies operating in the DRC maintain a presence in Kinshasa, and Congolese businesses tend to have their corporate headquarters in the city.  With an estimated population of 17 million in its metropolitan area in 2021, Kinshasa is the third largest metropolitan area in Africa after Cairo and Lagos. It is the largest French-speaking metropolitan area in the world and one of the most populous in the world. Kongo Central is the only province in the DRC with direct access to the sea.  Matadi, approximately 170 miles (273km) southwest of Kinshasa, is the capital and largest city in the province and is home to the principal seaport.  A meter gauge portage railway and a paved two-lane road connect Kinshasa and Matadi.  Though the Congo River flows between Kinshasa and Matadi, the stretch connecting the two is unnavigable.
  • Haut-Katanga and Lualaba provinces: These two provinces form the southern economic hub comprising the southern half of the former Katanga province bordering Angola and Zambia.  Lubumbashi, the DRC’s second largest city, is located near one of the world’s largest copper deposits.  Today, the region is home to numerous domestic and internationally owned mines.  Unlike Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and several other key cities in the Lualaba and Haut-Katanga provinces are connected to the southern African rail network.
  • North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, Bas-Uele, Haut-Uele, and Tshopo provinces:  This area of economic activity, from the cities of Bukavu and Goma on the Rwandan border, to the river port city of Kisangani to the west, and the gold mines in Bas-Uele and Ituri, forms the third economic hub of the country.  The area faces chronic instability due to conflicts between various armed factions fighting the DRC government and each other.  Actions by neighboring states such as Rwanda and Uganda, which perceive portions of eastern DRC to be within their zones of influence, sometimes have exacerbated these conflicts during the past three decades.  Despite difficult conditions, the region is home to a number of industrial and artisanal mines extracting cobalt, gold, and diamonds, as well as a rich agricultural sector with export potential.

Political Environment

State Department’s website for background on the country’s political environment.