Africa: What African Countries Must Do to Boost Trade Among Themselves!


The expansion of trade among sub-Saharan African nations holds the key to faster growth and development to the benefit of all its citizens. To unlock this potential, countries will have to focus more on trade facilitation, including the simplification and modernisation of trade procedures.

Sub-Saharan African countries have the lowest trade among themselves compared with other regions. Intra-regional trade is estimated at about 10% compared with 40% in North America and 60% in Western Europe.

Among the factors holding back growth are non-tariff trade barriers. Excessive document requirements, burdensome customs procedures, inefficient ports and poor infrastructure add to the cost of exporting and importing goods. Firms benefit more from a 10% reduction of these costs than from a similar cut in tariffs.

This is why there has been a major focus on reducing red tape and other non-tariff trade barriers.

Implementation of trade facilitation measures can reduce the cost of moving of goods across borders by between 12.5% and 17%. It can boost exports too by making it cheaper for firms to import materials they can transform into finished products for sale in other countries.

Trade facilitation can also create an enabling environment for foreign direct investment.

And red tape harms poor producers the most, so trade facilitation is especially beneficial for small- and medium-sized businesses. This is very important in the case of African countries.

A number of African countries have been implementing measures aimed at easing the flow of goods across borders. A guide to what needs to be done is set out in the Trade Facilitation Agreement earlier signed by World Trade Organisation members in 2013. The agreement outlines measures for expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods at borders.

A few sub-Saharan Africa countries have started working towards the implementation of a “single window” system – a collaboration between all state entities involved in the regulation of international trade.

For example, Ghana initiated a single window operation in 2002 following concerns about slow and expensive border procedures. It standardised information through a single administrative document for all its customs operations though implementation is not yet fully functional and automated.

Another measure involves the creation of one-stop joint border posts. An example of this is the Chirundu border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Since traffic only stops once for the country being entered, the time it takes to cross the border is greatly reduced.