In a context where large amounts of food can be lost at the post-harvest stage because of poor infrastructure, transport problems, storage, processing, packaging problems and delays due to corruption, the West Africa Trade Hub is reporting progress in Niger in eliminating barriers to road transport under the UEMOA (WAEMU) road governance initiative. The Borderless Alliance initiative, launched in May 2011, is reportedly seeing a removal of checkpoints along roads from Burkina Faso to the Niger capital Niamey, after the government ordered the removal of all checkpoints except for the border crossing point.
According to a report on the West Africa Trade Hub website, “a preliminary review of data collected in the last quarter of 2012 [found that] Niger had the highest level of delays per 100 km in the region, the second highest level of checkpoints and the third highest level of bribes”. (For details of the extent and impact of barriers to agricultural trade, see Agritrade article ‘ Barriers to intra-regional agricultural trade in West Africa reviewed’, 3 June 2013.)
Noel Kossonou, a Trade Hub transport governance specialist, maintained that “if the decision holds, we should see significant declines in delays and bribes.” He was optimistic about this, and observed that “more than a year ago, authorities in Togo eliminated all of the police and gendarme checkpoints along the country’s national highway, and that decision has held up".
Truck drivers and traders, however, have highlighted the remaining bottlenecks in Burkina Faso and Ghana, calling for these governments to follow the example of Togo and Niger and deal with illegal checkpoints.
The recent progress in the Borderless Alliance initiative needs to be seen against the background of the final agreement of the ECOWAS/UEMOA common external tariff (see Agritrade article ‘ ECOWAS CET finally adopted while producer organisations raise concerns’, 22 April 2013), which is expected to rationalise trade flows into the region.
According to analysts, initiatives such as the Borderless Alliance are seeking to get to grips with the fundamental problem of the “extraordinarily high cost of moving goods” within West Africa, nationally and regionally. Transporting goods within the region is twice as expensive as in Western Europe because of the outdated and inefficient vehicles in use and poor roads, resulting in low average vehicle speeds as well as bribes and delays at checkpoints, which can add “15–30 % to transport costs”.
The analysis suggests that “a 10% reduction in total transport costs – actual costs plus corruption costs along each corridor – could yield price increases of 12–13% for Niger’s onion producers, 2% for Ghana’s cashew producers, and 12% for Mali’s shea producers.” It is argued that “corruption and other problems in the transport sector… strip economic surplus out of the agricultural sector operating at considerable distances from the final market,” which results in a suppression of net returns, postponement of investment, declining yields and farmers being caught “in a cycle of falling productivity, reduced critical mass of tradable production, and perhaps even higher costs of arranging shipments”.
While progress is being made in reducing checkpoints in some countries of West Africa, notably in Senegal, Burkina Faso and especially Côte d’Ivoire, in other countries the situation is deteriorating (e.g. in Mali), while in others progress is uneven (e.g. Ghana).
This progress needs to be seen against the background of long-standing commitments within ECOWAS to dismantle regulatory measures that inhibit trade and eliminate “abnormal practices” that plague transporters.
While private-sector-based initiatives such as the Borderless Alliance are providing a new impetus for the elimination of “unofficial” non-tariff barriers, ultimately more effective government action is also required. This can start by rationalising, simplifying and decentralising export procedures in order to facilitate the activities of transporters.
The ECOWAS Agricultural Policy (ECOWAP) has acknowledged the importance of defining a sound framework for improving infrastructure and trade-related capacities for the marketing of agricultural products. Furthermore, it recognises the need for an institutional mechanism within ECOWAS that would be responsible for:
- aligning regulatory frameworks in order to simplify export authorisations (certificates of origin, transit declaration, etc.);
- ensuring the effective application of the agreed CET (to discourage smuggling of extra-regionally sourced products);
- following up systematically on commitments made to remove non-tariff barriers to trade; and
- monitoring the impacts of the implementation of policy commitments.
While some progress is being made, it is important that regional and private sector initiatives are not frustrated by lack of government action to permanently remove unnecessary obstacles to intra-regional trade.