Angola, Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo agreed to establish a new agency that will oversee the development of a trade corridor to and from the Atlantic Ocean port of Lobito that has the potential to transform how the region’s resources are shipped.
The Lobito Corridor Management Institution will facilitate trade from Zambia and Congo over Angola’s 1,344-kilometer (835-mile) Benguela Railway, the three countries said at a ceremony in the Angolan port city last week. If the project materializes, it may serve as a key route to move metals used to make electric vehicles and wind turbines from inland mines to port, and cut transport times from weeks to days.
The agency will “ensure the availability of the Lobito Corridor to importers and exporters from the inland states of the DRC and Zambia as an efficient and economical supplement to other trade routes,” Ricardo Viegas D’Abreu, Angola’s transport minister, said in a speech, according to a transcript shared with Bloomberg.
Zambia and Congo are key suppliers of copper and cobalt, which are currently shipped via road to ports in South Africa and eastern Africa. The Benguela Railway, which once transported minerals from the region, was shut during the Angolan civil war that lasted from 1975 to 2002.
Angola completed a $1.8 billion refurbishment of its segment of the line in 2014, and in July Trafigura Group and Mota-Engil Engenharia e Construcao Africa signed a 30-year concession agreement to run its cargo operations. The track in Congo remains in poor shape. To take full advantage of the line, Zambia would need to build a separate rail link to connect to it.
The new transport agency will be based in Lobito and run by an executive secretary and permanent secretariat, who have yet to be named. The three countries’ transport ministers and an executive committee of government and transport officials will oversee the institution, according to Viegas D’Abreu.
The three nations took more than a decade to negotiate the tripartite corridor accord. They had a combined population of about 150 million people and a gross domestic product of $216 billion last year, International Monetary Fund data show.
Frank Tayali, Zambia’s transport minister, said his country also intends to ship manganese and nickel along the line and has asked Angola for land at Lobito to be used as a dry port, according to a copy of his speech.
Constantin Kalala Mayiba, Congo’s ambassador to Angola, said his nation wants to use the rail line to link its land-locked regions to the sea and reduce transport costs, which are among southern Africa’s highest.