30 years

Researching the barriers to trade

Trade within and between regions can play an important role in stimulating economic growth and reducing poverty, so governments should do their upmost to support the cross-border movement of goods and services. But in much of sub-Saharan Africa, this simply isn't happening. Official figures for 2008 suggest intra-regional trade in Africa was just 10% of total trade, compared to 27% within Latin America and the Caribbean, 47% in Asia and 70% in the European Union, although this didn't take into account substantial informal trade.

In Africa, non-tarrif barriers to trade include high transport costs, poor infrastructure, excessive bureaucracy and bribery. A study by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) found that there were 69 checkpoints on the road between Lagos, Nigeria, and the Côte d'Ivoirean capital of Abidjan – one for every 14 km. These provided the perfect opportunity for officials to demand bribes from organisations and individuals carrying freight on the road.

One of the compulsory checkpoints along the corridor

But how exactly do these 'informal' non-tariff barriers work? A journalists' study tour of red tape and harassment along the 1325 km road between Bamako and Dakar, the capitals of Mali and Senegal, carried out in June 2008, provided some answers. The five-day tour was organised by the Conference of Ministers of Agriculture in West and Central Africa (CMA/WCA) and supported by CTA, in collaboration with the Regional Cattle and Meat Observatory and the West African Network of Agricultural Journalists.

Cattle, sheep and goats represent the main export from Mali to Senegal, with livestock from Mali helping to meet domestic shortages in Senegal. The trade provides a living and means of survival for tens of thousands of pastoralists, marketeers, merchants, truck drivers and others working in the private sector.

Despite the existence of a regulatory framework on the free movement of agricultural products in West Africa, moving livestock is anything but free. Take, for example, the testimony heard by the journalists in the markets at Niamana and Kati, where cattle are loaded for the journey to Senegal. In both markets, the operators unanimously condemned harassment by the authorities. They explained that in order to gain the necessary export licences they were obliged to pay the authorities bribes of CFA 2000–5000 (€3.10–€7.80). The veterinary services also demanded bribes of between CFA 500–5000 CFA (€0.80–€7.80) before issuing health certificates which should have been issued free of charge. The national transport authority and the city council also demanded 'informal payments'.

Journalists discuss with cattle traders

Over the next few days, as they travelled west, the journalists gathered more damning evidence. By the time the operators reached Dakar they had been forced to pay considerable sums of cash. And they were not the only ones to suffer: bribery on this scale inevitably has an effect on prices, and contributes, in part, to the high cost of meat in Dakar.

Many of the individuals working for law-enforcement authorities painted a very different picture. The journalists reported that all the policemen, customs officers and gendarmes whom they met at various checkpoints said precisely the same thing, as if they had learned by heart what to say when questioned. All said that their job consisted in ensuring the road users' security – by checking the condition of vehicles and whether the paperwork was in order – and they categorically denied demanding and taking bribes, despite evidence to the contrary. However, it should be pointed out that in these sort of situations private operators also use the system to their advantage by not complying with the rules.

Cattle market

Bribery and extortion are not the only problems facing livestock traders and transporters. The study trip revealed that there are also legal and regulatory issues which needed to be addressed. For example, the export licence demanded by the Malian authorities was in direct contravention of the current regional regulations; in other words, Mali had signed up to an agreement which it was flouting. The journalists also recommended that both countries needed to harmonise the rules relating to the transport of cattle. At the time of the study tour, a truck carrying cattle in Mali could have up to five livestock handlers in the back to watch over the animals. In Senegal, this practice was illegal.

Dialogue between journalists on the study visit and actors

At the end of the trip, the journalists, who represented a wide range of media, including radio stations, daily papers and national television, were unanimous in their praise for the organisers and recommended that similar journeys should be repeated elsewhere in the region. The study tour had provided them with an opportunity to research a topic of considerable importance and create greater awareness about the problems confronting livestock traders in West Africa.

Since then, CTA has supported a variety of initiatives which encouraged West African countries and regional trade organisations to review their laws, and reduce regulations and taxes which restrict trade. For example, in April 2011, a workshop in Burkina Faso focused on harmonising the regulations governing agricultural trade. Jointly hosted with the Conference of Ministers of Agriculture in West and Central Africa, it attracted policymakers, traders, farmers' organisations and journalists. "Progress has been made in reducing trade barriers, but much remains to be done," says José Fonseca of CTA.

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