Johannesburg — Southern Africa has the lowest internal trade on the continent and among other regions of the world at 15% according to preliminary findings of an issues paper on Intra-regional agricultural trade in Southern Africa.
Speaking at the opening of an experts group meeting on strengthening inter-regional trade in southern Africa, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Southern Africa Office Director, Said Adejumobi said internal trade in Africa, particularly southern Africa has remained stagnant while trade and exports to other countries have increased.
He said that despite the adoption of the SADC trade protocol in 2000 by member States, which was aimed at creating a conducive free intra-trade environment, there has been no improvement recorded. He said that protectionism in the form of non-tariff barriers constitutes the biggest factor affecting intra trade in the region.
"Southern Africa is trading less and less with itself. The new economic environment which was expected to emerge with the adoption of the trade protocol over a decade ago has not taken place, ironically the same period has witnessed exponential growth of the region's exports and trade with the rest of the world" observed Adejumobi.
Meanwhile, UN Resident Coordinator in South Africa, Agostinho Zacharais in his keynote address said that agricultural intra-trade was key to the region's economic growth, food security and sustainable development. Zacharias called for the removal of barriers such as non tariff barriers impeding trade in the region particularly in the agriculture sector which forms the largest intra-trade products in the region at 66percent of all intra-trade.
Preliminary findings from the ECA issues paper on 'Intra-regional agricultural trade in Southern Africa: trends, issues and challenges' shows that SADC's exports to the world as a proportion of its GDP have increased from 20 to more than 30 percent during the last decade, but the share of its exports to the region have grown much more slowly and account for only 3 percent of regional GDP.
In comparison, Europe regional trade has reached 60 percent of total trade; in North America, 40 percent; in ASEAN, 30 percent; Southern Africa is lagging behind with intraregional trade remaining stagnant at roughly 15 percent over the entire period of the SADC trade protocol implementation.
Agriculture is one of the dominant economic sectors and the largest employer of labour in southern Africa. Agricultural products are also the most traded in the region. Contributions from agricultural production to the national GDP range from 3% (Botswana, South Africa), 10-25% (Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Madagascar) up to 25-50% (DRC, Malawi, Tanzania).
In addition, agricultural exports are a major foreign exchange earner, contributing on average 13 percent to total export earnings and constituting about 66 percent of the value of intra-regional trade.
However, much of this trade is informal, due to a range of government controls, non-tariff barriers to trade, poor cross-border infrastructure and cumbersome customs procedures. Other barriers impeding intra-SADC agricultural trade include poor infrastructure, inadequately functioning agricultural markets and the often significant government influence on strategic markets leading to unilateral and politically motivated decisions such as export bans.
The three-day expert group meeting organised by ECA is taking place in Johannesburg South Africa between 23-25 October and is expected to make recommendations towards accelerating the removal of impediments to agricultural trade, particularly non-tariff barriers to increase intra-regional trade in order to facilitate growth, food security and poverty alleviation.
The meeting is attended by experts from member States including the private sector, policymakers, civil society, scholars and regional economic communities.
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