A USDA review of the agricultural situation in Benin, published in March 2014, notes that “Benin serves as a delivery corridor for West Africa, reaching more than 100 million people in the landlocked countries of Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and the northern states of Nigeria.” USDA observes that “Benin’s relatively efficient port services and liberal trade policies mean it is an important cog in the regional trade flows to nearby countries.” The report notes improvements in the country’s port operations as well as some small improvements in the ease of doing business over the past 3 years. Benin applies the WAEMU (often known by its francophone name UEMOA) common external tariff (CET) with its four tariff bands (zero, 5%, 10% and 20%) with no quantitative restrictions applied.
The review comments that “informal trade between Nigeria and Benin is substantial.” The main products involved in this informal trade include rice, poultry products, refined sugar and a range of other food and agricultural products.” The report notes trade sources’ estimates that “more than 85 percent of these types of products that are shipped to Benin are meant for onward sales into Nigeria through informal cross-border trading activities.” This trade poses particular problems in the poultry and rice sectors.
Benin has only a small poultry meat sector (13,000 tonnes), with production at present largely focused on egg production. However, Benin is “a major importer of poultry meat”, with imports totalling 160,000 tonnes (about 6,500 40-foot containers), valued at US$450 million (although some traders suggest this could be as high as 300,000 tonnes). The informal trade to Nigerian markets brings major benefits to traders from Benin, with many fish importers shifting the use of their cold-store facilities to the import of poultry meat and even expanding their overall cold-store capacity with poultry imports in mind.
This trade is seen as being driven by the government of Nigeria’s “ban on legal frozen poultry imports”, a measure aimed at protecting local Nigerian poultry producers.
Benin’s poultry producers for their part would like to see the Nigerian government “remove its import ban on poultry meat in order for them to gain free access into Nigeria’s massive market”. It is thought that this would then encourage investment in poultry production for both export and domestic markets.
In the rice sector, according to the USDA review, traders from Benin can sell a 50-kg bag of rice in Nigeria at prices 75% higher than they can obtain on the Benin side of the border. According to USDA, in order to avoid the high Nigerian levies, Nigerian traders have been directing their rice consignments to ports in neighbouring countries “where they are cleared and moved into the Nigerian market through informal trading activities”. According to press reports, the Comptroller General of Customs in Nigeria has “identified the low tariff on rice in neighbouring countries as one of the major factors contributing to smuggling of rice into the country”.
The trade dynamic along the Benin–Nigeria border needs to be seen against the background of the scheduled introduction from 1 January 2015 of the ECOWAS CET, a move intended to end the re-exportation trade. The Director General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry has highlighted how the introduction of the CET will need to include scrapping of the import and export prohibition lists, “abrogation of import duty waivers, abrogation of import levies and loss of sovereign authority over tariff policy”.
The trade situation between Benin and Nigeria would appear to highlight the challenges faced in implementing the ECOWAS CET and the need for broader policy harmonisation, if the economic incentive for large-scale informal trade, which impacts directly on formal sector investment decisions, is to be removed.
While this is essentially an internal matter that will need to be resolved within ECOWAS, there is an external EU dimension, with EU exports of poultry parts finding their way into this re-export trade in ways that pose major threats to the health of the consumers at the end of the chain (see Agritrade article ‘ Continued growth projected for EU poultry-meat exports to Africa’, 24 November 2013 and ‘ Continued growth in EU poultry meat exports targeting some African markets’, 3 March 2014). (The mode of smuggling completely undermines the integrity of the cold chain, with products subsequently being refrozen upon delivery in Nigeria).
In the rice sector, recent developments in Nigeria suggest that there is a growing realisation that the effective tariff differential between Nigeria and neighbouring West African states needs to be lowered substantially if the issue of smuggling – which undermines national policy implementation – is to be effectively addressed (see Agritrade article ‘ Uncertain movement on Nigeria’s rice trade policy’, 18 May 2014). This is also a critical issue for the credibility of the ECOWAS CET, which would be undermined by the extensive continued use of non-tariff measures alongside the CET.