Trade Facilitation and Economic Transformation in Africa

Joe Amoako-Tuffour, Neil Balchin, Linda Calabrese and Max Mendez-Parra, March 2016


Trade facilitation can stimulate economic transformation in Africa by raising exports, supporting export diversification, reallocating resources to more productive activities, improving access to cheaper and better-quality imported inputs and enabling participation in value chains. Many African regions have begun to formulate regional approaches to trade facilitation, and there are important examples of particular approaches working well. The introduction of one-stop border posts (OSBPs) at Chirundu (on the Zambia–Zimbabwe border) and at the Busia border crossing between Kenya and Uganda have reduced the time and costs involved in moving goods across borders. The OSBP at Busia has also made it easier for small traders to cross the border, giving them access to a wider market and improving their livelihoods. Similar improvements in border crossing times have been recorded along the Trans Kalahari, Maputo Development and Northern Corridors.

Outside of these examples, however, the implementation of trade facilitation agreements has generally been problematic. It remains a challenge to translate the good intentions expressed in Africa’s regional trade agreements into concrete actions towards trade facilitation.

Key issues to be considered are:

  • What more can be done to harmonise regional trade facilitation instruments in cases where countries have overlapping membership in more than one regional economic community?
  • What are the remaining constraints (political and other) to the elimination of NTBs hampering cross-border trade flows in Africa? How can these be addressed?
  • What can be done to ensure effective implementation of mutually agreed protocols, programmes or schemes aimed at promoting intra-regional trade in Africa?
  • Do governments provide enough space for engagement with the private sector on issues related to trade facilitation?
  • Why are African countries not jumping to ratify the World Trade Organization Trade Facilitation Agreement? Is it a governance problem? Or is it because of a lack of policy coherence?

In addition, the paper raises issues related to specific regions:


  • How can SADC countries improve coordination in the management of regional transit systems?
  • What should be done to address concerns about the potentially adverse effects of trade facilitation on local employment, revenues and the livelihoods of the most vulnerable?


  • How can cross-country coordination in the operationalisation of trade facilitation be improved in a way that takes into account the varying levels of commitment to regional integration across EAC member states?


  • How can ECOWAS countries mitigate internal constraints hampering them from being more effective partners in regional development and integration processes?
  • How can ECOWAS countries enhance the role of the private sector in regional integration in order to promote economic transformation?


  • What are the remaining bottlenecks hampering implementation of the free trade area in the ECCAS region? How can they be addressed?

This paper was produced in collaboration with the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET), as a background paper for the African Transformation Forum (ATF) in Kigali, Rwanda on 14-15 March 2016.

Photo credit: Pete Lewis, Department for International Development