Nigeria’s border closure: a road block or a speed bump on the road to a successful AfCFTA? (World Bank)
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Let’s zoom in on the rice issue. In 2018, Benin, a country of 11 million people, was the sixth largest importer of rice in the world and the largest rice importer from Thailand. More recently, Benin’s rice imports have been steadily rising while Nigeria’s have been falling at a similar pace, suggesting large re-exports of rice from Benin to Nigeria (Figure 1). Why might that be the case? Because import tariffs in the two countries are widely different. In 2013, Nigeria’s tariff on rice imports was set at 70%. In 2014, Benin reduced its tariff on rice imports from 35% to 7%. This makes the practice of re-exporting extremely attractive to both formal and informal operators. They can import rice to Benin at a low cost and smuggle it into Nigeria to sell at a much higher profit margin. One of the most straightforward ways to combat this behavior would be to agree on a common external tariff, which could help make re-exporting less profitable. But this incident between Nigeria and Benin highlights some of the other non-tariff trade barriers that could still provide incentives for re-exporting. Below, we focus on three of the major technical challenges that need serious consideration as governments negotiate the terms of their participation in the AfCFTA.
Tension between national industrial policies and AfCFTA ambitions: The AfCFTA will only succeed if member countries make the regional strategy part of their national policy and proactively address the tensions that arise between the two. Countries should find the sweet spot that reinforces national economic goals and ensures maximum gains from increased integration, looking beyond a static assessment of their priorities. In addition, countries need to make the case to their people as to why integration is useful in the long term – this is particularly important in the larger countries, which may have greater influence on regional decisions.
Lack of capacity to monitor and safeguard against illicit practices, including smuggling, dumping, and violation of the rules of origin: Given the African Union’s ambitious industrialization agenda, we expect to see even more of these types of disputes on rules, particularly the rules of origin, once trade under AfCFTA becomes more widespread. With this on the horizon, countries need to think through how to address origin fraud, setting clear and simple rules that are monitored and enforced at the national and regional levels.
Trade dispute settlement mechanisms: One of the key challenges to the AfCFTA we identify in our forthcoming book, is the need for an effective dispute resolution mechanism with the authority and institutional capacity to mediate and enforce decisions within and across countries in Africa and with parties outside the continent. This body should be complementary to the traditional diplomatic/political approach to resolve disputes. [The authors: Woubet Kassa, Albert Zeufack; tradebarriers.africa: Despite closed borders, Nigerian manufacturers begin online registration for AfCFTA]