Photograph — The Independent

East African countries are in talks to adopt stringent guidelines for trading in the gold industry, reports say, as they move to put an end to rampant smuggling across the region and Central Africa.

A meeting of mining officials from members of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) has been scheduled for next month where they would discuss the Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Strategy.

The ICGLR, which has major gold producers in the region as members, wants its partner countries to adopt the strategy by the middle of the year. The plan is to harmonize gold export procedures, taxation, traceability, and certification.

“It is disheartening to see so much gold being smuggled from DR Congo through its neighbouring countries,” said Ambeyi Ligabo, a director at ICGLR. “While much attention over the past 10 years has focused on implementing traceability for tin, tungsten, and tantalum, little has been done in terms of monitoring the flow of gold in the region.”

Africa exports precious metals worth billions of dollars annually. While much of the activity is legal, a significant amount of exports is carried out through smuggling.

Every year, gold worth billions of dollars is smuggled out of the continent. Most of these go through the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East which is a gateway to markets in Europe, the United States and beyond, according to a special report by Reuters.

In 2016, the UAE imported $15.1 billion worth of gold from Africa, up from $1.3 billion in 2006. But much of the gold was not recorded in the exports of African states, with industrial mining firms operating on the continent denying sending their gold to the UAE – an indication that the Gulf country’s gold imports from Africa come from other informal sources.

The problem is compounded by a boom in the business of artisanal mining, or small-scale gold collection by individuals, throughout the continent, a practice that reportedly costs African nations dearly in lost taxes. The World Health Organization estimates about 54 million Africans across the continent depend on artisanal mining for their livelihoods.

Beyond lost revenue, illegal production and smuggling of gold also often come at a high human and environmental cost. “Small scale gold mining is a crucial source of income for millions of Africans, but it is often dangerous, damaging, and in the worst cases, deadly, for artisanal miners,” Magaran Bagayoko of the WHO’s Regional Office for Africa said in a statement.

Countries affected by smuggling in the Great Lakes region have agreed that it is “crucial” to implement the ICGLR guidelines on gold trade, Ligabo told The EastAfrican, because “the region’s image has been smeared by smuggling.” “We hope they speed up the process so these guidelines are affected by March this year,” he added.

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