Working Papers

Intra-African trade in southern and eastern Africa and the role of South Africa

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01 Mar 2011

Author(s): Ron Sandrey and Hans Grinsted Jensen

tralac has been collaborating with the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) in South Africa during the past year on a project which focuses on the proposed Tripartite Free Trade Area (FTA). The Tripartite FTA is envisaged to consist of the 26 member states of the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), establishing a free trade area stretching from Cape to Cairo. The research papers focus on different aspects of the trade in goods agenda; including a review of intra-African trade and agri-business development in this region. These papers are included in a book, entitled Cape to Cairo – an Assessment of the Tripartite Free Trade Area.

The purpose of this paper is to analyse the implications for South Africa of the proposed COMESA-EAC-SADC tripartite free trade agreement, with a focus on agricultural trade. Any analysis of this nature needs to take into account the problem of regional data quality. African countries are notorious for the lack of openness, timeliness and reliability of trade data. For this reason, a wide range of data sources has been investigated and, where possible, the best data for the specific components has been used.

First, the recently-built Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP) African database is used to present what is possibly the most accurate report on intra-Africa trade data, including agricultural trade. As this analysis is built upon 2001 data, however, the COMTRADE data base is then used to update the analysis to the 2006 to 2008 period. This is followed by an examination of the ‘mirror’ data for most of the major countries exporting agricultural products to Africa using World Trade Atlas (WTA) data for the December years through to and including December 2009, and then by an analysis using the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) data to look at a consistent but slightly dated analysis of African imports by product. Finally, given the focus on the implications for South Africa, South African agricultural trade with the tripartite region is analysed, again using WTA data.

Compounding the problems of timeliness and completeness of the data are the inconsistencies in the sector definitions used. In general, this analysis is based on the definitions used by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), but this has not always been practical, and the approaches used to facilitate consistency are discussed at the appropriate points in the analysis. The chapter starts by introducing the trade data and its components, namely agriculture (processed and unprocessed), resources, and manufacturing as used in the GTAP database.

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.