African Countries Urged To Increase, Diversify Share In International Trade

By Maxwell Nkansah

African countries have been urged to expand and diversify their participation in international trade and global value chains to attain economic transformation.

A book published by the World Bank, states that African countries must expand and diversify their participation in international trade and global value chains to reduce poverty on a large scale and transform their economies.

The book titled, ‘Africa In the New Trade Environment: Market Access in Troubled Times’, argues that Africa must go beyond trade in raw materials and link its production and trade to the global economy to take advantage of the unlimited demand and innovation along the supply chain.

“This requires comprehensive and dynamic efforts that bolster Africa’s export market access and diversifies its markets to new regions and new products while also strengthening regional trade,” it adds.

According to the book, unilateral trade preferences have the potential to promote economic transformation through exports. It also calls for evaluating and re-engineering trade with traditional partners.

It notes that utilization rates of many African countries for the existing trade preferences -such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and Everything But Arms (EBA) are systematically low.

“Evidence on AGOA shows that natural resources, main oil, account for the bulk of African exports. There is a need to integrate unilateral trade preferences with other efforts to deepen trade and investment between sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries and the OECD countries, mainly the US and the EU.

This includes integrating preferences with foreign aid policy instruments to address structural challenges limiting export capacity. Recent initiatives such as Compact with Africa (CWA) with a strong focus on improving the business environment, building infrastructure, and promoting effective regulations and institutions appear to be in line with this comprehensive approach,” the book says.

“The global econ­omy is a source of growth that African economies cannot afford to ignore. While African exports of goods and services have seen their fastest growth in the past decade, the volumes remain low at just 3 percent of global trade. The time is ripe for policymakers to expand their thinking beyond traditional approaches and traditional markets if they want to play an active role in international trade in the 21st century,” said Ousmane Diagana, World Bank Vice President for Western and Central Africa.

Commenting on the book, Hafez Ghanem, World Bank Vice President for Eastern and Southern Africa said: “Deepening regional integration to scale up supply capacity and build regional value chains is essential to the continent’s economic transformation. The establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) presents major opportunities to boost intra-African trade, strengthen the complementarities of production and exports, create employment, and limit the impact of commodity price volatility on the participants.”

“African countries need to undertake bold domestic structural reforms to scale up the supply capacity of the region. This can be achieved by improving digital and physical connectivity, maintaining smart macroeconomic management with stable and competitive exchange rates and low inflation, and increasing the efficiency of regulatory, legal, and judiciary institutions,” said Albert Zeufack, World Bank Chief Economist for Africa.

The book recommends among others; improving physical integration – such as cross-border energy and transport infrastructure and connective infrastructures; strengthening political cooperation – such as harmonizing customs rules and procedures and sacrificing some level of sovereignty in rulemaking and implementation in favor of regional frameworks and, facilitating business integration – such as regional electronic settlement system, electronic cargo tracking system, one-stop shops and easing restrictions on services trade. The costs of distance and fragmentation can be reduced through intensive investment in these areas.

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