World Bank report emphasizes need for stronger regional trade within Africa

Friday, November 16 2012

Craig Duncan
A new report by the World Bank highlights the importance for Africa’s future of strengthening regional trade. “Africa Can Help Feed Africa: Removing barriers to regional trade in food staples” focuses on the potential of intra-regional trade in food staples to advance both food security and growth across the continent. 
 
The second annual Borderless Alliance conference - Feb. 14 and 15, 2013, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso - will bring hundreds of stakeholders together to focus on many of the issues raised in the World Bank's recent report. Online registration is now open.
 
The report notes that, given population growth and urbanization, Africa’s demand for food staples is expected to double by 2020, primarily in cities. Recent surveys suggest that only 5% of all grain imported by African countries originates from regional sources; without strengthened regional trade, Africa’s dependence on imports of foreign foodstuffs can only increase.
 
As the report observes, a long-standing structural problem is that “trade connections in Africa were developed to link to overseas markets, and some of the key gaps in infrastructure and logistics services are between African countries.” These gaps, and what the World Bank describes as their attendant “operational and bureaucratic delays and regulatory burdens… long waiting times at the border and multiple roadblocks,” are among the central issues being tackled by the Borderless Alliance, an collaboration between USAID West Africa Trade Hub, the World Bank, regional bodies including ECOWAS and UEMOA, and a wide range of public and private sector stakeholders.
 
 
“This report paints a powerfully accurate picture of the challenges facing West Africa,” said Justin Bayili of the USAID Trade Hub-supported Borderless Alliance. “Also, it highlights the fact that these are not simply issues facing businesses: importers inevitably pass the high costs of transport on to the consumer, which means that the people hit hardest are inevitably the poor.  
 
“Facilitating trade helps everyone, not just businesses.”
 
“The World Bank has been supportive of what we at Borderless are trying to do,” Bayili continued. “This report makes very clear why. It shows how border problems create a vicious cycle of under-investment, where transporters rely on ageing, overloaded trucks which damage roads, but there is no reason to invest in new trucks if they will be spending most of their time waiting in queues at borders. 
 
“To make basic foodstuffs genuinely affordable for all, this cycle has to be broken,” he said. “It is not something that can be changed from outside, but only from within, by public and private stakeholders coming together and discussing their respective needs and concerns. This is the environment that the Borderless Alliance aims to foster across the region.”
 

The World Bank’s “Africa Can Feed Africa” report outlines a wide range of challenges facing Africa on its way to food security and growth, from lack of access to modern high-yield seeds, to fertilizer prices far higher than in most of the developing world. A great many challenges lie ahead, but it is clear that Africa has the capacity to feed itself and manage its own growth. Developing closer international trade cooperation within the continent is a vital step in this process. 

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