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First edition published of new annual report on West African trade

02 February 2013

The African Centre for Trade, Integration and Development (CACID) has posted a report on West Africa trade that aims to become an annual review. The report describes the current legal framework for trade across the region, but notes that trade policy commitments are not always fully implemented, with considerable official and unofficial barriers to trade remaining. This situation has in recent years been further complicated by national agricultural trade measures adopted in response to rising food prices (including import tax exceptions, export bans and planned import bans to boost investment in local production).

Cocoa, cotton and fruit (including bananas) are the main regional agricultural export products, with coffee exports having fallen dramatically in the past 30 years. Food products represent 14% of West African imports: rice, wheat, fish products, dairy products and food preparations are the main imported food products. The EU supplies 30% of West African food imports, Asia and Oceania supply 28% (mainly cereals), NAFTA 14%, and Africa only 6%. However, trade with Africa is described as being on a ‘dynamic trend’.

The report notes the limited nature of intra-regional trade and the dominant role of a small number of countries (Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire). The main food products traded at the regional level include tubers and roots (mainly yam and cassava), dry cereals (millet, sorghum and maize), rice, and animal products. Informal regional trade in food products is however very extensive, for example, some 600,000 tonnes of imported rice is estimated to be traded into Nigeria from Benin and Niger each year.

According to the report, three categories of products have ‘potential, in terms of regional integration, for promotion of complementarities between the various production areas, for ensuring food security and high incomes for producers’:

  • Live animals: with about 2.5 billion head of cattle traded annually, this is the main agricultural product traded in the region, which extends from Sahel areas (Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso) to coastal and forest areas;
  • Cereals and cowpeas: more than 500,000 tonnes of millet and sorghum are exported annually from the north of Nigeria, Mali and Burkina Faso to Niger and Mauritania, while maize is exported by Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana to Niger and Burkina Faso, and some 200,000 tonnes of cowpeas are exported annually from Niger to Nigeria;
  • Onions and potatoes: there has been a strong growth of onion and potato production in recent years, with the onion trade flowing from Niger to coastal states (Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Togo), Guinean potatoes (Belle de Guinée) being sold in Senegal, and Nigeria exporting potatoes to Benin and Niger.

The report describes in some detail the main intra-regional trade routes, and the food products which travel along them.

The report argues that the full potential of intra-regional trade is not being exploited, due to incoherence in economic policies in ECOWAS member states. It calls for the removal of technical obstacles and red tape along the main trade corridors, and for investment in the development of trade infrastructure. It also calls for trade policies that protect and promote production for domestic markets and support programmes to improve underlying competitiveness.

Editorial comment

ECOWAS member states have acknowledged that facilitating trade flows between member countries, by abolishing existing non-tariff barriers (NTBs), is a desirable and critical requirement for the creation of regional markets that support enhanced regional food security.

However, other challenges remain, including:

  • the need to improve production capacity across the region, through better water management and introduction of more advanced agricultural management techniques;
  • the low level of intra-regional trade linked to the poor state of intra-regional transport infrastructure; a lack of product diversity and inadequate attention to the quality of products produced, packaged and traded.

This leads to an under-exploitation of the vast potential for regional trade in agricultural products such as cassava, onion, vegetables, tomatoes, millet, and processed food products.

While governments in some countries have started to pay attention to the promotion of production of these crops, establishing the necessary policies and infrastructure to create broader regional markets will be essential.

Current national government efforts, however, often raise questions about the appropriate trade policy tools to be used. In some instances, policies aimed at promoting domestic production in countries like Nigeria have directly resulted in new barriers to intra-regional trade in these same products (e.g. in the rice sector, where a ban on imports across land borders is in place).

This highlights the need for greater regional tariff harmonisation and the establishment of a regional checklist of relevant trade policy tools that can be used to support the development of national production in ways complementary to regional market development.


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