Published on Africa Can End Poverty

To promote exports, look behind the border

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ImageIn the past, policy advice on promoting trade in Africa may have overstressed the need for African countries to bring down their own trade barriers, such as import tariffs, and insufficiently emphasized the need to improve trade logistics, infrastructure, business competition, and regulation. As I mentioned in a recent interview, lowering tariffs may not help if it takes an average of four days to clear goods at the port of Mombasa, Kenya. It can take up to 21 days for a vessel to offload its cargo at Dar es Salaam port. Given the large number of landlocked countries in Africa, poor infrastructure—such as road and communications networks—could be as much a barrier as trade tariffs.

Furthermore, some of these infrastructure constraints may be due to excessive regulation and barriers to entry in the trucking industry. Finally, Africa’s “spaghetti bowl” of overlapping regional trading arrangements makes it difficult for firms to compete abroad. While trade tariffs continue to be a barrier in some countries, relaxing some of these “behind-the-border” constraints may be one of the most effective ways of promoting trade in Africa.


Shanta Devarajan

Teaching Professor of the Practice Chair, International Development Concentration, Georgetown University

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