Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Transforming African Trade Corridors for the Future: What Are the Key Priority Areas?


Transforming African Trade Corridors for the Future: What Are the Key Priority Areas?

Transforming African Trade Corridors for the Future: What Are the Key Priority Areas?

Africa must prioritise the transformation of key trade corridors which connect the Regional Economic Communities (REC) if indeed the continent is to reap the full potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and improve its economic performance. The important role played by trade corridors regarding: providing access to markets, connecting adjoining countries, transit countries and providing access to seaports for landlocked countries cannot be emphasised enough. They play a critical role in facilitating both regional and international trade. Improving the performance of trade corridors in Africa is therefore critical as their performance ultimately determines the speed, cost and time for moving goods; and volume of exports and imports traded between trading partners at any given time.

To the trading partners, it is imperative to ensure that transport and trade barriers especially Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) are effectively addressed in order to improve corridor performance which in turn will improve trade flow.

Trade corridors (and their performance) are shaped and affected by several factors:

  • bilateral, multilateral trade and transit agreements implemented by the trading partners using the corridor or transit countries. These instruments set the protocols and procedures governing cross-border transport movements, documentation required for clearing cargo and the procedures involved, as well as matters related to allocation of responsibility for damage or loss of goods and duties

  • regulation and technical standards for infrastructure and transport vehicles and services. This has a huge bearing on transport market access, carriers’ ability to offer transport services in other countries and cost of rendering such services. The standards are particularly important at border posts where differences in standards and regulations often result in complex procedures that affect the movement of cargo and transport

  • quality and capacity of the network infrastructure in the corridor and at border crossings. This affect safety and the average speed at which cargo is moved, transit times at border posts as well as productivity as it pertains to carriers and the fleet

  • variety and quality of transport and logistics services offered to the users. This affects the options available to move cargo between trading partners and the cost at which cargo is moved

  • institutional arrangements including corridor management, regulatory and law enforcement. This has a huge bearing on corridor operational efficiency, speed of addressing corridor bottlenecks and overall coordination regarding implementation of interventions aimed to improve corridor performance

  • coordination and collaboration between stakeholders including regulatory authorities, law enforcement and logistics services providers.

All stakeholders must cooperate to improve the performance of trade corridors. Against the above background, key trade corridors connecting Africa face a multitude of challenges which require urgent attention. The challenges can be summarised as follows:

  • regulatory disharmony and fragmentation: The fragmentation and disharmony in regulations, customs procedures, and transport and vehicle technical standards which affect both cargo and quality of logistics services

  • weak or inadequate transit and transport infrastructure, inefficient administrative procedures and customs operations

  • poor network connectivity, poor quality network infrastructure and limited capacity of bridges which negatively affect mobility and accessibility

  • poor logistics services which are rarely given attention when corridor related matters are being considered; which can be addressed through improved collaboration between public and private sector stakeholders in the management of corridor operations, and increased direct involvement of the private sector in planning and design of corridor interventions.

These challenges result in excessive congestion along trade corridors, delays, long transit times and high logistics costs. They also breed environments conducive for informal payments especially at border posts and corridor checkpoints. To effectively deal with the challenges, it is imperative that trade corridors are transformed, leveraging strides achieved to date anchored on the need to improve trade efficiency. The implementation of the AfCFTA has made this more urgent given opportunities emanating from a wider African market and reduction of trade tariffs.

If not transformed, corridors will create bottlenecks hampering the achievement of the objectives of the AfCFTA. The transformation of corridors must be fast tracked to support the implementation of the AfCFTA. The transformation can be anchored on the following key priority areas:

  • network quality and capacity improvement through intelligent transport systems and balancing the capacity of infrastructure and facilities in the whole corridor to avoid choke points

  • accelerated review, simplification and harmonization of corridor and transit agreements and procedures guided by the objectives of the AfCFTA

  • simplification of procedures, greater transparency in implementing the procedures and providing better information to the public regarding the procedures

  • introducing greater transparency regarding procedures and promoting the harmonization of procedures on both sides of the border

  • regulatory harmonisation in the transport environment and systems standardisation to ensure market access for international carriers, interoperability for infrastructure and rules applied to carriers. Procedures and regulations that inhibit competition and efficiency must be eliminated

  • reforming customs regimes to more pro-trade facilitation oriented operations rather than prioritising controlling movements and collection of duties. This should be complemented by a substantial increase in the use of risk-based regulatory and facilitation systems supported by effective coordination, collaboration and sharing of information on risks

  • improving visibility of cargo and trucks for predictability, safety and security through real-time data and information flows related to tracking shipments, documentation and certification of cargo and financial transactions related to trade and transport

  • deployment of remote network monitoring technology including at border posts aimed to improve visibility, safety and security

  • traveller information systems and traffic management systems to enable better scheduling of journeys and avoid improve traffic management

  • rapid deployment of Information Technology in the regulatory environment and on the network to enable data driven regulation and corridor law enforcement operations

  • reduced level of regulation of transport and logistics services as it pertains to market access and operating time for trucks; and encouraging increased competition in the provision of these services

  • improved coordination and cooperation by between corridor management institutions, regulatory authorities and other import corridor structures and stakeholders.

These interventions will transform Africa’s corridors through:

  • improvement in the quality of corridor infrastructure and interconnectedness

  • harmonisation of transport regulatory requirements, standards, systems and customs procedures

  • elimination of unnecessary regulations and ensuring greater transparency in application of regulations

  • balancing the need for regulatory control and trade facilitation

  • improving transport and cargo visibility and timely exchange of data and information.

This will lead to massive reduction of congestion and delays in corridors and border posts, reduction of trade transit times and logistics costs which will lead to improvement in competitiveness. The implementation of the interventions must not be influenced by sovereignty concerns. Rather, they should be anchored on the need for solution co-creation and deployment. Thus, focus must be on the potential of the solution to transform and improve corridor performance and trade. This will also have tangible benefits regarding stimulating improvement to Africa’s economic performance. At the end of the day, the winner must be trade, and that requires even greater coordination and collaboration by and between trading partners as they transform trade corridors.


Arnold, J. (2006) Best Practices in Management of International Trade Corridors

African Development Bank Group (2019) Cross-Border Road Corridors: The Quest to Integrate Africa

Diebold, J. (1995) Transport Infostructures: The development of Intelligent Transport Systems

Youssef, D. (2019) Sustainable Transit and Transport Corridors in Support of LLDCs Trade and Regional Integration and Cooperation, UNCTAD

About the Author(s)

Etiyel Chibira

Etiyel Chibira has over 18 years’ experience on cross-border road transport policy and regulation, regional transport systems and trade facilitation. He serves on many technical committees and working groups focusing on transport and trade facilitation in Southern Africa. Etiyel’s research has focused on corridor performance, regional transport systems, challenges affecting cross-border road transport, road safety and trade facilitation in Southern Africa. His qualifications include a BSc Honours Degree in transport studies from the University of Zimbabwe and an MSc in Project Management. Etiyel has worked in both government and private sectors and has deep understanding of the regional transport environment. He is currently working for the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency.

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