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Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Topics publications: Data analysis and statistics

Trade Briefs

South Africa Trade Update 2021

South Africa’s latest trade policy formulation retains the clear connection between trade and industrial policy, noting that that trade policy instruments such as the import tariff are used selectively to support industrialisation objectives. South Africa is a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at the multilateral level; however, regional integration is an integral part of South Africa’s trade strategy.

This trade update focuses on South Africa’s trading relationship with select regional zones, regional economic communities (RECs) and select countries. More specifically, the brief will focus on South Africa’s trade with Africa, the European Union (EU), the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) countries, the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK). The review period is for the full year – 2021.

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Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

São Tomé and Príncipe in the times of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns, which have restricted the movement of people and lowered economic activity, has had a significantly negative impact on global economic growth. Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are, in particular, projected to be severely affected.

São Tomé and Príncipe is one such country, with a fragile economy which is therefore highly susceptible to external shocks. The remoteness of the island contributes to increased export costs, and the limited availability of land and a small workforce prevents diversification of the economy beyond a reliance on tourism revenues.

Although the island has seen some success in containing the spread of the virus, the major consequences to the country will not come in the form of cases or deaths, but rather from the severe economic consequences of a near absence of international travel and downturn in global economic activity. The threat to the tourism sector remains and will only get worse the longer international travel is restricted.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

The Automotive Components Trade in Africa: Its Place and Potential (2021 Update)

At present, Africa is largely dependent on the rest of the world for automotive component imports, with the exception of the contribution of South Africa. In order to reduce dependence, deepen industrialisation and enable technology and skills transfer, Africa needs a continent-wide industrial policy logic for the automotive sector. This policy will include protection, investment and incentive provisions, but it must also feature an intelligent mechanism by which a potential regional value chain strategy could be developed. This mechanism must not just be based on the desire to distribute industry evenly across members but must be based on the actual and potential industrial and market strengths of member nations.

If continental liberalisation were to take place in the near future, almost all of the gains in this sector would accrue to one country – South Africa. A continental industrial policy for this sector could ensure that over the medium to longer term, the gains would be more evenly spread.

This Trade Brief makes use of a diverse set of data and analysis techniques to evaluate the status and future potential of the automotive components sector in industrialisation and trade in Africa.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Working Papers

Are African RECs Trade-Enhancing? A Panel Data Analysis

This paper employs both informal and formal analysis of panel trade and tariff data to determine the extent to which the gaining of preferential access to a market actually leads to increased trade volumes as a direct result. The two PTAs analysed are the EAC and the SADC, with imports into Uganda, from two new preferential trade partners; and South Africa, from six new preferential trade partners, the subjects of analysis. In both cases, the countries entering into preferential trade with an existing member of the PTA show eventually rising trade volumes directly as a consequence of acquired preferential access.

The lesson for the AfCFTA is that the rhetoric and the action have to align: to boost intra-African trade, preferential access has to be broadened within Africa and this requires intent. In addition, policy action that goes beyond narrow tariff liberalisation is also required.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Working Papers

Review of intra-Africa trade liberalisation and the composition of intra-African trade: Implications for the AfCFTA

An objective of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is to create a liberalised market for goods and services. To achieve this, the AfCFTA provides for progressive tariff liberalisation among state parties. This will add to existing intra-Africa tariff liberalisation, since regional economic communities (RECs) will continue to exist.

Currently, there are 13 RECs of which 8 are recognised by the African Union. There are also many bilateral trade agreements and ongoing liberalisation negotiations under the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA). Some RECs have no trade agreements in place; no trade agreement means no intra-REC tariff liberalisation. However, most countries are members of multiple RECs and bilateral trade agreements. This is a challenge for calculating existing intra-REC tariff liberalisation.

In this working paper we aim to establish where the AfCFTA can add to existing intra-Africa tariff liberalisation. In doing so, we address the following questions: What percentage of intra-REC tariff lines is liberalised? What is the composition of intra-Africa trade? Are intra-Africa imports mostly sourced from fellow customs union or FTA members? Are these imports mainly duty-free?


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

Comparing the Trading Environment for Enterprises in Africa’s RECs: Lessons from Firm-Level Data

This Trade Brief investigates the ease of trade for small, medium and large-sized enterprises across the countries and regional economic communities (RECs) of Africa. The percentage of African enterprises identifying customs and trade regulations as a major constraint is almost 40% higher in Africa than the rest of the world. In addition, Africa’s performance in clearing both exports and imports through customs is below the world aggregate, but more so for imports clearing. Africa’s imports take on average more than 30% longer to clear customs than the world average.

Of all the RECs in sub-Saharan Africa, SADC scores best on ease of trade indicators from the importer perspective and the perspective of the general perception of trade regulations as an impediment. This suggests that SADC has something to contribute to the balance of SSA in their quest to improve their enterprise environments for cross-border trade.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

Trends in South Africa’s Tariff and Trade Remedy Investigations

Tariff, trade remedy and safeguard investigations in South Africa are undertaken by the International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC), which is responsible for the administration of international trade in terms of the ITAC Act and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Agreement. ITAC’s main role involves investigations on i) ordinary customs duties; ii) trade remedies; and iii) import and export control.

In South Africa, trade remains a key catalyst to stimulate and accelerate growth along a path that generates sustainable, decent jobs in line with the national development plan (NDP) and the national growth path (NGP). It is important to note that the tariff remains a key instrument to industrial policy in South Africa; as such, the National Industrial Policy Framework (NIPF) and the Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) are central components of this strategy which seeks to encourage and upgrade value-added, labour-absorbing industrial production. Therefore, in terms of tariff investigations, a case-by-case approach is applied by ITAC where the facts of each investigation are carefully examined to determine whether the tariff intervention (increases, decreases, rebates or drawbacks of general customs duties) is required to support domestic producers.

This trade brief focuses on tariffs and trade remedies and safeguards only. It is important to note that these remedies are triggered in response to different situations and circumstances which may be causing material injury to a domestic industry, and recourse to these tools is initiated by the domestic industry. The paper focuses on two key products/sectors where interventions have been requested regularly by ITAC – namely steel and sugar, highlighting the rationale behind interventions or the lack thereof. It concludes with a brief discussion on implications of ITAC’s interventions on the SACU Common Customs Area (CCA) and the Common External Tariff (CET).


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Working Papers

The Automotive Components Trade in Africa: Its Place and Potential

This paper presents a large amount of data in both tabular and visualised form in order to facilitate an analysis of the status and future potential of the automotive components sector in industrialisation and trade in Africa.

At present Africa is largely dependent on the rest of the world for automotive component imports, with the exception of the contribution of South Africa. In order to reduce dependence, deepen industrialisation and enable technology and skills transfer, Africa needs a continent-wide industrial policy logic for the automotive sector. This policy will include protection, investment and incentive provisions, but it must also feature an intelligent mechanism by which a potential regional value chain strategy could be developed. This mechanism must not just be based on the desire to distribute industry evenly across members but must be based on the actual and potential industrial and market strengths of member nations.

If continental liberalisation were to take place in the near future, almost all of the gains in this sector would accrue to one country – South Africa. A continental industrial policy for this sector could ensure that over the medium to longer term, the gains would be more evenly spread.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.


On the tralacBlog

Trade Briefs

Patterns of Comparative Advantage in Africa: Assessing Similarities and Differences

This trade brief applies several unsupervised statistical learning methodologies to determine the extent to which the nations of Africa converge (or diverge) in terms of their export comparative advantage patterns. This investigation is important because it can shed light on the viability of increased regional integration in Africa, and specifically the African Continental Free Trade Area. Where there is similarity in export comparative advantage, nations are usually competitors, but where there is a difference, there is the potential for enhanced trade integration. By conducting the distance analysis at a bilateral (or inter-country) level, far greater insights can be obtained than by simply looking at gross measures of divergence.

Even though most African countries show comparative advantage in the export of aggregate primary goods, there is diversity within the broad category of primary exports. This suggests that increased intra-African trade with current comparative advantage patterns is possible. At a REC level, the EAC and ECOWAS show greater complementarity in primary exports and potential for new intra-trade across their members than do either SADC or COMESA. However, in the case of SADC there is scope to increase trade between its more diversified and manufacturing economies.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

Market Access Patterns in Africa: Assessing Similarities and Differences

This trade brief applies several unsupervised statistical learning methodologies to determine the extent to which the nations of Africa converge (or diverge) in terms of their non-preferential trade regimes. This investigation is important because it can shed light on the viability of increased regional integration in Africa, and specifically the African Continental Free Trade Area. Where trade regimes diverge, there is a greater likelihood that trade-deflection (or ‘transhipment’) will destabilise a free trade area. By conducting the distance analysis at a bilateral (or inter-country) level, far greater insights can be obtained than by simply looking at gross measures of divergence.

The analysis reveals that at present, only the members of the two customs unions – the EAC and SACU – show a meaningful amount of convergence in their trade-weighted MFN trade regimes. The nations of ECOWAS are less divergent than SADC, whereas COMESA is the most divergent of the RECs that were analysed.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac

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