Certain administrative barriers to trade in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have been eliminated on paper for decades. But the gap between policy and reality has meant that those trading agricultural staples across West African borders are still asked for certificates of origin (COO) despite these being rendered moot under the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) in 1985.
Likewise, ECOWAS member states had declared they would recognize the mutual equivalence of each other’s phyto- and zoosanitary certificates, which show that plants or animals have been inspected and are clear of diseases that threaten public health. But in practice, traders reported they were still required to obtain duplicate phyto- or zoosanitary certificates when they crossed borders.
Despite an abundance of anecdotes, little data existed to quantify these bureaucratic hassles—which could then determine the time and cost savings due to their elimination. In 2017, the Trade Hub undertook a wide-ranging survey to generate evidence on these questions, fanning out to 20 trading centers and border crossings in eight countries within the ECOWAS region. Survey teams randomly selected and interviewed a total of 290 traders, freight forwarders, and drivers who buy and sell 15 common agricultural and livestock products. All were asked how often they were asked for a COO and phyto- or zoosanitary certificates—and how much time and money they spent to get them.
Unsurprisingly for such a large area, responses ran the gamut, from no time and cost spent to multiple days and hundreds of dollars. Yet the averages show that traders are spending significant time and money on these obsolete requirements, costs they in turn pass on to consumers.
Traders said they were required to obtain a COO more than half of the time, which took them an average of 15 hours and cost an average $41.74.
Agricultural product traders said they were required to obtain duplicate phytosanitary certificates more than a quarter of the time, which took an average of nearly 13 hours and costs an average $68.28.
Livestock traders are asked to obtain duplicate zoosanitary certificates more than half the time, taking an average of just under 19 hours and costing an average $57.76.
These findings—verified by the Trade Hub’s research team—show that ending illegal or ill-informed requests for these documents would save significant time and money. Since late 2015, the Trade Hub has successfully persuaded six West African countries—Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Togo—to formally drop the COO requirement.
The study recommends next steps to end officials’ practice of requiring traders to obtain certificates that are not officially required, including a scorecard, educational campaigns, operational changes, and suggested incentives and sanctions. Download the study here.