tralac Daily News
South Africa reported its largest current-account surplus on record last year as import demand was suppressed by the economy recovering from the impact of the coronavirus and the value of gold exports rose to the highest since at least 1960. The balance on the current account, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, widened to a surplus of 3.7% of gross domestic product, or 227 billion rand ($15 billion), from a revised 2% in 2020, the South African Reserve Bank said in a report on Thursday. The ratio of the surplus to GDP is the highest since 1987. The current-account surplus shrank more than expected in the fourth quarter to an annualized surplus of 1.9% of GDP, or 120 billion rand, from a revised 3.5% in the previous quarter. That’s less than the 2.5% median estimate of 12 economists in a Bloomberg survey The quarterly surplus was the sixth in succession, the longest streak since 2001.
With 14% of global fertiliser exports currently stuck in Russia and the price of oil and gas continuing to climb as a result of the current conflict, the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa (CGA) says South Africa can expect further increases in fertiliser, fuel and agrochemical prices. To mitigate the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and Europe, on South Africa’s citrus growers and exports, the CGA has joined hands with exporters, government and other stakeholders across the value chain.
The CGA explains that the Russian market accounts for between 7% and 10% of South African citrus exports every year. About 11.2-million cartons of fruit were exported to Russia in 2021. “With no fresh produce having been shipped to the region over the past few weeks by most countries, early shipments of lemons destined for the Russian market have been impacted. “Should this situation continue, when the export season officially kicks off in April, other varietals such as grapefruit and soft citrus will also be impacted,” the association points out.
The recent Africa Energy Indaba held in Cape Town brought together major energy players who control South Africa’s trajectory in terms of energy production and value chains in a multi-billion-rand industry.
The Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities (DWYPD) participated at the Indaba to drive the need for policy reform and development that accelerates transformation, and promotes the inclusion of all marginalized groups across the African continent including women, youth and persons with disabilities. Furthermore, the Department’s participation brings forward a clear message that we, on the margins, must inform the development and growth of our continent.
The active role of women, youth and persons with disabilities is key to driving a transformative agenda for the energy sector across the continent. In this context, women remain the primary users and producers of energy within the household, and in emerging industrial countries. Women’s organisations continue to intensify their call for environmentally benign energy sources, and advocate for the use of new technologies in the development and expansion of the energy sector.
With South Africa being at risk of losing a potential multibillion rand investment by Ford, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana has emphasised the important role that cities and provinces play in creating an enabling environment for investment.
“We need to get the basics right. This entails reducing regulatory constraints, providing effective services, as well as coordinating and sequencing economic interventions,” Godongwana said on Wednesday. Addressing Parliament during the debate on the 2022 Fiscal Framework and Revenue Proposals, the Minister said the country could lose a potential multibillion rand investment by Ford for an electric vehicle plant.
Court puts on hold KPA eviction from Lamu port premises (Business Daily)
The Court of Appeal has temporarily stopped an order restricting the Kenya Ports Authority from accessing the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) project over compensation row. Judges Stephen Kairu, Pauline Nyamweya and Jessie Lesiit noted that restricting access to the facility will be against public interest considering the billions that have been pumped into the project. “We are persuaded that in all the circumstances of this case if what is being sought to be stopped takes place, it will be irreversible,” they said. The judges also noted that the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) has demonstrated that the developments on the suit property are enormous and a lot of time and money has gone into the project.
The judges also agreed with KPA that it stands to suffer irreparable losses, which it cannot recoup, should the court fails to grant an order stopping execution of the Environment and Land Court (ELC) decision that would have seen the government agency evicted from the facilities.
Exports fuel fast increase raises fears of dumping (Business Daily)
The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) has flagged a suspicious spike in the shipment of fuel meant for exports amid fears that marketers are dumping the cargo in the local market to evade taxes. KRA Commissioner for Customs and Border Joseph Kaguru raised the red flag after oil marketers increased the share of fuel targeted for sale in neigbouring countries while cutting the portion for local consumption. Fuel labelled for exports accounted for 56 percent of cargo in three ships that docked at the port of Mombasa last month, raising the alarm bells at KRA. Consumption in Kenya dominates sales of fuel imported through the port. Imported fuel destined for neigbouring countries like Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo does not attract the 25 percent import duty. The tax difference motivates crooked dealers hungry for higher margins to sell the produce locally.
Kenya, Zimbabwe ink seven pacts to boost investments (Business Daily)
Kenya has signed seven bilateral agreements with Zimbabwe even as President Uhuru Kenyatta joined the push for the removal of Western sanctions sapping the economy of the Southern African nation.
“We affirmed the need for cooperation with bilateral commitment at global levels to deal with pandemics of this nature now and in the future. Both Zimbabwe and Kenya are committed to enhance cooperation towards mitigating the adverse effects of climate change and other environmental issues,” Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Credit to traders up 136pc as banks loosen purse strings (Business Daily)
Traders secured bank loans at the fastest pace amongst six top borrower categories, signalling a gradual recovery in consumer demand. A breakdown of the latest data from the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) indicates that net credit to traders grew by 136 percent to Sh41.5 billion in 2021 compared with a year earlier when retail and wholesale stores cut operating hours due to nighttime curfew. The increased uptake of new bank credit by traders pushed up their stock of loans to Sh526.5 billion — making up slightly more than 17.2 percent of Sh3.05 trillion held by the private sector last December. Trade, household, manufacturing, real estate, transport and communications and loans advanced on the strength of consumer durables such as appliances, furniture and office equipment made up 78 percent of net Sh241.9 billion loans extended to the private sector last year.
Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry, Nana Ama Dokua Asiamah-Adjei, has stated that government is aiming to roll out gender-sensitive policies that will give women the opportunity to leverage the benefit from cross-border trade, especially with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). It can be noted that part of the problems women face includes the moving of their goods across the borders. The Deputy Trade Minister, who was speaking at a sensitization workshop for women in cross border trade organized by the Ministry of Trade and Industry in partnership with GIZ Ghana, said, “It is important to note that as part AfCFTA phase two negotiations, the Council of Ministers has received and approved the terms of reference to commence negotiations on protocol on women and youth.”
“The expected benefit of the new protocol includes the following; to mainstream and amplify the gains of women and youth-led businesses who predominate the MSME ecosystem of all the state parties to the agreement, to guarantee targeted approach for the provision of capacity building, investment and advocacy to African MSMEs, and to ensure that the AfCFTA works for African women and youth. This is an indication that at both national and continental levels, issues relating to women in cross-border trade is if high priority”, she added.
The Federal Government through the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has provided the reason why it bowed to pressure and suspended the implementation of its controversial Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), an electronic valuation policy recently introduced for imported used vehicles.
The customs said that the implementation of the policy was suspended for one month to allow clearing agents to clear the backlog of vehicles held up at the ports due to the ongoing strike by the agents. The NCS warned importers and agents to ensure the uniform application of rebates for all vehicles using the correct values for their assessments.
The action by the NCS is coming some weeks after the commencement of indefinite strike embarked upon by clearing agents at Lagos ports over the implementation of the VIN valuation policy which they had alleged that the Customs had used to hike duties on imported vehicles arbitrarily among other issues.
Transportation of goods could become easier and faster thanks to a strategic partnership formed by Ethiopian Airlines, International Djibouti Industrial Park Operation (IDIPO) and Air Djibouti to implement sea-air multimodal transportation of goods to Africa.
Ethiopian Airline has signed an MOU with IDIPO and Air Djibouti to create multiple modes of transport, particularly sea-air, which will assist with trade and business in Africa. Based on the agreement, the cargo will be transported from China to Djibouti Free Zone by sea and then take to the skies from Djibouti International Airport. The synergy between air and sea transportation would be instrumental in facilitating trade between Africa and China through fast and easy movement of cargo.
The collaboration would save both time and energy in addition to stimulating the growth of the cargo market in Africa. The transportation deal would enable traders to order their products from China to Africa via the Djibouti port. Ethiopian Airlines would then facilitate the air movement of goods to different parts of Africa through its existing network.
Aviation experts from the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) are meeting in a three days’ retreat in Kigali, Rwanda, from 8th –10th March 2022 to harmonize their workplans, strengthen institutional arrangement and collaboration in the operationalization and implementation of the SAATM; one of the AU Agenda 2063 Flagship Projects.
Deputy Director for Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority (RCAA), Ms. Winnie NGAMIJE, on behalf of the Director General and the President of AFCAC, Mr. Silas UDAHEMUKA stated: “Cooperation between AFCAC and the RECs is not optional, it is a must if aviation programmes on the continent are to succeed, we are therefore compelled to ensure that such cooperation is reinforced through harmonization of the work plans,” stated.
Customs favours richer firms, small traders say (The Standard)
A few companies that have the corporate and financial muscle to convince customs bodies of their ability to develop strong logistical systems are able to get favours when clearing their goods, disgruntled businesses in the import-export sector say. Interviews with some of the traders say there is no robust legal framework in any of the East African countries that guides how a company can attain Authorised Economic Operators (AEOs) status. Lack of special recognition of the AEO programme by customs laws in all the East Africa Community (EAC) member states discourages small firms from joining the scheme. Companies that have achieved AEO status are given first priority by customs officials when their goods are leaving or arriving at the port. This means their documents are checked and cleared fast without much scrutiny, and they are given access to priority service channels such as telephone lines at contact centres and special corners at release points.
Why South Sudan failed to integrate into EAC Customs Union (The New Times)
Disparities in policy, legal and regulatory frameworks are some of the issues highlighted in a report showing why there is very little progress made in integrating South Sudan into the East African Community (EAC) Customs Union ever since the country was allowed to join the six-member bloc six years ago. South Sudan applied to join the EAC in June 2011, shortly after gaining independence from Sudan. The regional Parliament’s Committee on Communication, Trade and Investment last September interacted with stakeholders in Juba, South Sudan to assess progress made in integrating the country into the EAC Customs Union, among other things.
Five Customs administrations in East Africa, namely Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, organized its Regional Joint Coordinating Committee (RJCC) meeting of the “Project on Capacity Development for Trade Facilitation and Border Control in East Africa (TF & BC Project)” virtually on 25 February 2022. This Project, whose original one started in 2007, has been implemented by the five Customs administrations with the support jointly extended by the WCO and JICA in cooperation with Japan Customs. With the aims at improving efficiency of border procedures and enhancing border control, the five Customs administrations have made continuous collaborative efforts under the Project on (1) effective One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs) operation, and (2) Customs capacity building on three areas, namely (i) risk management (RM), (ii) post clearance audit (PCA), and (iii) Program Global Shield (PGS).
The ECOWAS Commission, with the support of the Trade Facilitation West Africa (TFWA) Programme, organised the launch of the ECOWAS Regional Trade Facilitation Committee (ERTFC) on 21 February 2022 in Lomé, Togo.
In his address, Minister Kodjo Adedze, on behalf of H.E. Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe, President of the Togolese Republic, welcomed participants to the historic launch and inaugural meeting of the ECOWAS RTFC. He stressed the importance of the ECOWAS RTFC in providing advice and support for the implementation of trade facilitation initiatives in the region. He concluded by launching the ECOWAS Regional Trade Facilitation Committee and urging its members to work towards simplifying exports, imports, and transit procedures within and outside the region.
In its recent Research Bulletin, the Bank of Central African States (BEAC) dedicated an article to the issue of central bank digital currencies as alternatives to cryptocurrencies. Written by Jacques Eloundou Ndeme, head of the Directorate of Payment Systems at the central bank, the article is titled “Are central bank digital currencies an answer to crypto-currencies?” According to the author, the introduction of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) can disrupt the existing banking system if citizens decide to keep digital currencies in their wallets instead of keeping cash in banks. In that scenario, banks would not have enough cash to grant credit and offer other financial products, he explained. As a result, the said banks could raise the interest rates they offer on savings accounts to encourage customers to keep their deposits with banks, he added concluding that this will be bad for those who apply for loans. Indeed, as he illustrated, when the interest rates on savings increase, interest rates on loans follow the same suit.
In addition, the author writes, the use of digital wallets can prompt users’ distrust towards bank accounts. Unless banks are allowed to manage digital wallets, people may stop using bank payment solutions, he points out. He believes that two facts can help minimize the risk of users’ turning away from those payment solutions. First, there is usually no interest on CBDCs held by users in digital wallets by imposing transaction limits for digital wallets. Secondly, when managing digital wallets, banks can impose transaction limits.
Africa’s next wave of tech unicorns are digitizing informal trade (The Africa Report)
Fintech accounts for 60% of African venture capital investment, but a new cohort of companies such as Sabi in Nigeria, MaxAB in Egypt, and Sokowatch in Kenya are transforming how hundreds of thousands of merchants operate in Africa’s extensive informal economy. With tools to support logistics, management, and operations for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), these startups are challenging the notion that informal transactions need to be formalized, but rather just made more productive. The next wave of African billion-dollar companies are tackling the challenge of digitizing informal trade.
A staggering 60% of global employment remains in the informal economy, outside the purview of the state. This figure is even greater in sub-Saharan Africa, estimated at 89.2%, with markets such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Senegal, and Mozambique coming in even higher at above 95%.
This scale is not only apparent in employment but value, as sub-Saharan African economies are estimated to derive between 25 and 65% of gross domestic product from informal production, with Nigeria and South Africa at the higher and lower ends respectively. With such great reach, it should be no surprise that the informal economy permeates across classes as well, with even tertiary degree holders finding their way to the informal economy about a quarter of the time.
The sector played a critical role by making communication easy as many countries struggled by tightening movements by introducing restrictions in a bid to protect their economies by introducing lockdowns, curfews, remote working, and school closure. The statement was made by the Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy at The African Union Commission Amani Abou-Zeid recently during the 7th Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) Week in Nairobi recently. According to him, it also exposed the wider infrastructure gaps across Africa and the urgent need to prioritize and bridge the digital infrastructure gap in Africa, which is home to 21 of the 25 least-connected countries in the world.
She added that priorities in digital area should include implementation of the 11 Information Communication Technology (ICT) PIDA PAP2 projects that require strong private-public partnerships, putting in place an enabling environment for digital single market and timely completion and implementation of digital sectorial strategies for health, education, agriculture and cybersecurity strategy.
According to African Union Commission Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa (2020-2030), Africa presents a sea of economic opportunities in virtually every sector, and the continent’s youthful population structure is an enormous opportunity in this digital era and hence the need for Africa to make digitally enabled socio-economic development a high priority.
A World Bank report on Inequality in Southern Africa: An Assessment of the Southern African Customs Union, released today, examines the process of household income generation to identify the sources of inequality in the region. It finds that the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) member countries of Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa, represent the world’s most unequal region though there are differences across countries with Namibia and South Africa distinctly having higher inequality than the rest and Lesotho the least. Consumption inequality across the SACU region is found to be more than 40 percent higher than the averages for both Sub-Saharan Africa and upper-middle-income countries. South Africa, the largest country in SACU, is the most unequal country in the world, ranking first among 164 countries in the World Bank’s global poverty database. Botswana, Eswatini, and Namibia are among the 15 most unequal countries, and despite recent improvements, Lesotho still ranks among the top 20 percent, the report shows.
African countries recommitted to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by building better through investing in green growth to unlock the continent’s development opportunities. Confirming Africa’s capacity to drive sustainable development, African governments have reaffirmed commitment to meeting the SDGs at the 8th Session of the African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (ARFSD), held in Kigali, Rwanda, 3-5 March 2022.
Despite the impact of COVID-19 on the economic and health sectors in Africa, the continent can achieve sustainable development. Africa should view the pandemic not as setback but a springboard to recover and build better on its development programmes. Africa must build multilateral partnerships and strengthen capacities in the manufacturing of vaccines and pharmaceuticals, Mr Kagame implored delegates. “Africa should prioritize domestic resource mobilisation to finance its development particularly its national health care system,” said Mr Kagame, whose country has vaccinated 70 percent of its population. “Building the Africa we want is up to us,” Kagame noted, emphasizing that strong mechanisms are needed to monitor and change the implementation of the SDGs. “We have to own and lead the process and support one another. That’s why these agendas [2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063] are important because it is about achieving the stability and sustainability of our continent.”
The conflict in Ukraine and resulting sanctions on Russia are driving up global oil and food prices, which could lead to increased hunger in Africa, and even more unrest, analysts said. “We are heading for a disruption,” said Steven Gruzd, a Russia expert and foreign policy analyst at the South Africa Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg.
“I think food insecurity will be a massive consequence of this war.” Russia is the world’s largest exporter of wheat, and Ukraine ranks fifth. Countries in North Africa, such as Egypt, Russia’s top Africa trade partner, are expected to especially feel the impact of the sanctions. Tunisia has said it is already looking elsewhere for wheat supplies. “When looking at the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on global food security, in a year of unprecedented humanitarian needs, WFP is extremely concerned as the conflict may have far-reaching consequences,” Claudio Altorio, a World Food Program spokesperson, told VOA.
Russia has engaged with chronically unstable nations like Mali and the Central African Republic, where it has mineral interests, and where private, Russia-based military contractors are stationed. China, on the other hand, is engaged across the continent through loans and infrastructure investment. In 2021, total bilateral trade between China and Africa reached $254.3 billion, Chinese authorities said. By contrast, Russia-Africa trade was worth about $20 billion, according to the African Export-Import Bank. “The magnitude of China’s trade with Africa is already 10 or more times bigger than Russia’s trade with Africa,” said Gruzd. “If supply lines go down, China would probably be best placed to pick up that slack.”
“African countries are in general trying to increase their agricultural exports to China. South Africa exports a lot to China and Russia … so South African companies may be looking to China to make up for disruptions,” he said.
But Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa, said he didn’t think sanctions on Russia would increase China-Africa trade. He said he thought the European Union, the United States and Canada would be better placed to supply Africa with grains and, to some extent, oil.
Africa’s commodity-exporting countries are primed to benefit from the impact of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, according to experts. Commodity prices including oil, gas, maize, and wheat—top global exports for the two countries in conflict—have begun rising on fears over the impact of sanctions slapped on Russia.
“African oil producers stand to benefit from higher oil prices as their fiscal positions are closely correlated to oil exports and the international oil price,” said Oxford Economics Africa analysts in their monthly highlights. Nigeria, with an oil production capacity of 1.36 million barrels per day will likely be the biggest beneficiary followed by Libya (1.17 million) and Angola (1.14 million,) barrels per day. Similar sentiments have also been echoed in the African Energy Chamber first quarter 2022 Outlook, that projects increased activities in oil and gas exploration would unlock the continent’s potential in meeting global energy demand and shore up foreign investments.
The Africa-EU Energy Partnership (AEEP) issued a policy brief on ways to support the growth of wind energy in Africa. The authors present findings that the region is currently using only 0.01% of its wind energy potential. They stress that Africa needs to dramatically expand generation capacity to approach full access to sustainable energy services for its citizens, part of its sustainable master plan stipulated in the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
The authors note that onshore wind power in Africa could match the region’s electricity demand 250 times over (180,000 TWh per year), and 27 African countries on their own each have sufficient wind potential to theoretically supply all of Africa with electricity. In 2020, installed wind capacity is only equivalent to 6,500 MW of electricity, which is a fraction of its technical potential.
The brief reports that the Africa Energy Transition Programme led by the Africa Energy Commission (AFREC) “anchors Africa’s energy transition” to Agenda 2063, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Paris Agreement on climate change through six strategic objectives. In June 2021, AU Member States requested AFREC/AUC to mobilize resources for programmes to accelerate green energy investments for increased energy access and climate ambition.
International trade plunged in 2020 but recovered sharply in 2021. While total trade flows are now comfortably above pre-pandemic levels, trade impacts across specific goods, services and trade partners are highly diverse, creating pressures on specific sectors and supply chains. The changes in the trade structure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in a single year was of a similar magnitude to changes otherwise typically seen over 4-5 years. Substantial imbalances across trade partners and products remained at the end of 2021, and not all of the accumulated losses from the earlier steep declines were recuperated. The heterogeneity of trade impacts and changes in trade flows across products, sources and destinations signifies high uncertainty and adjustment costs, and implies additional incentives for consumers, firms and governments to adopt new — or to intensify existing — risk mitigation strategies.
Women cross-border traders face significant challenges, including time constraints, costs of burdensome procedures, discrimination and harassment at borders. Despite multilateral calls to address those issues and to make trade policies gender-responsive, notably the Revised Buenos Aires Declaration, limited progress has been made on gender equality in trade. This policy brief outlines key gender-based barriers for women traders and provides 10+1 policy recommendations to address them.
Companies entered the COVID-19 crisis with record debts they racked up after the global financial crisis when interest rates were low. Corporate debt stood at $83 trillion, or 98 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, at the end of 2020. Advanced economies and China accounted for 90 percent of the $8.9 trillion increase in 2020. Now that central banks are raising rates to check inflation, firms’ debt servicing costs will increase. Corporate vulnerabilities will be exposed as governments scale back the fiscal support that they extended to stricken firms at the height of the crisis.
Governments face difficult decisions as they manage these risks to the economic recovery. They may need to continue providing financial support to firms that can recover (but cannot raise the private financing to do so) while withdrawing support from firms that are so badly scarred that they should be restructured or liquidated. Financial support should become more focused amid shrinking fiscal space.
Writing to International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and World Bank President David Malpass, Mr Denton said that while ICC fully respected the decision of several governments to impose economic sanctions on Russia in recent days there was concern about the effects of the crisis on SME performance in sectors with a high reliance on exports to Russia, particularly in developing and emerging economies.
On behalf of ICC’s global network of over 45 million businesses in more than 100 countries, Mr Denton urged the IMF and World Bank to urgently consider making available any institutional assets that can be deployed to help national governments cushion the unintended effects of the crisis on SMEs saying ICC stood ready to support in any way to diminish the emerging risks.