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Saturday, 31 March 2012 11:51

World Bank: Africa Losing Billions of Dollars to Trade Barriers

By Abimbola Akosile

NIGERIA, March 31, 2012, (This Day) - A new World Bank report has disclosed that African countries are losing out on billions of dollars in potential trade earnings every year because of high trade barriers with neighbouring countries.


The report, released in Washington, US, also noted that, despite African leaders' call for a continental free trade area by 2017 to boost trade within the continent, it is easier for the continent to trade with the rest of the world than with itself.


According to the new report 'De-Fragmenting Africa: Deepening Regional Trade Integration in Goods and Services' regional fragmentation could become even more costly for the continent with new World Bank forecasts suggesting that economic slowdown in the Eurozone could shave Africa's growth by up to 1.3 percentage points this year.


The report's authors wrote, "While uncertainty surrounds the global economy and stagnation is likely to continue in traditional markets in Europe and North America, enormous opportunities for cross-border trade within Africa in food products, basic manufactures and services remain unexploited."


It (report) said this situation deprives the continent of new sources of economic growth, new jobs, and sharply falling poverty, factors which accompanied significant trade integration in East Asia and other regions. The cross-border production networks that have spurred economic dynamism in other regions, especially East Asia, have yet to materialise in Africa, it added.


"It is clear that Africa is not reaching its potential for regional trade, despite the fact that its benefits are enormous - they create larger markets, help countries diversify their economies, reduce costs, improve productivity and help reduce poverty," said the World Bank's Vice President for Africa, Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili.


"Yet trade and non-trade barriers remain significant and fall most heavily and disproportionately on poor traders, most of whom are women. African leaders must now back aspiration with action and work together to align the policies, institutions and investments needed to unblock these barriers and to create a dynamic regional market on a scale worthy of Africa's one billion people and its roughly $2 trillion economy", she added.


The report noted that until the onset of the financial crisis, most sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries grew rapidly and often at much higher rates than the world average.

Economic growth in these countries was robust and driven by the boom in commodity prices, which led to very high growth in export values, especially for minerals, to new fast-growing markets such as India and China, it observed.


According to it, "While exports have grown strongly over the last decade, and the region's trade has recovered well from the global crisis, the impact on unemployment and poverty has been disappointing in many countries.


"Unemployment remains around 24 per cent in South Africa. In Tanzania, extreme income-poverty appears to have remained broadly constant at around 35 per cent of the population. This shows that export growth has typically been fuelled by a small number of mineral and primary products with limited impacts on the wider economy and that formal sectors remain small in many countries", it added.


As a result, the report suggested that Africa will have to diversify its exports from depending solely on precious metals and other commodities and encourage more people to trade goods and professional services in accounting, law, education, healthcare, among others. The region's large number of young people also calls for significant numbers of new jobs, intensive trade, and growth, it added.


To escape the current straightjacket of trade fragmentation, the report said that African leaders, most of whom will attend this week's regional integration summit in Ethiopia hosted by the African Union, need to pursue changes in three key areas.


These include improving cross-border trade, especially by small poor traders, many of whom are women, by simplifying border procedures, limiting the number of agencies at the border and increasing the professionalism of officials, supporting traders associations, improving the flow of information on market opportunities, and assisting in the spread of new technologies such as cross-border mobile banking that improve access to finance.


The second tip involves removing a range of non-tariff barriers to trade, such as restrictive rules of origin, import and export bans, and onerous and costly import and export licensing procedures; while the third suggestion called for reforming regulations and immigration rules that limit the substantial potential for cross-border trade and investment in services. (END)


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