WASHINGTON, April 10 (Reuters) – Cameroon is working to boost export revenues to fend off a potential debt crisis and has relaunched talks with the U.S. to rejoin Washington’s flagship trade initiative with Africa, its economy minister said on Monday.
The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent global shocks provoked by the war in Ukraine have hit African countries hard, denting economic growth and aggravating their sovereign debt positions.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts that Cameroon, a Central African oil producer, will record 4.3% economic growth this year after it slumped to 0.5% in 2020.
The Fund has classified Cameroon as being at high risk of debt distress, though in its most recent review of the country’s loan programme it stated that, with active fiscal reforms and management, the debt could be sustainable.
“Our debt service coverage from exports needs to be improved. That’s the reason why we are ranked in a high risk debt distress position,” said Alamine Ousmane Mey, Cameroon’s minister of economy, planning and regional development.
He was speaking at an event organised by the Atlantic Council think tank on the sidelines of the IMF and World Bank’s Spring Meetings in Washington.
“We’re working to be able to improve our exports through import substitution policies to reduce imports, produce more and export more. This will give us better room for debt service coverage,” he said.
Cameroon has also relaunched talks with the U.S. to end its suspension from the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) initiative, which grants qualifying African countries tariff-free access to the U.S. market.
Former President Donald Trump suspended Cameroon from the programme in late 2019 over “persistent gross violations of internationally recognised human rights” by Cameroonian security forces.
Since 2017, factions of secessionist militias have been battling government troops in the majority Francophone country’s two English-speaking regions. The conflict has killed thousands and displaced nearly 800,000 people.
“All the issues that have been raised, we’re working on in a very transparent open manner to be able to iron them out and solve the problems,” Mey said, referring to the talks with U.S. officials to rejoin AGOA.