Why the extent of intra-African trade is much higher than commonly believed—and what this means for the AfCFTA

May 24, 2021 Brookings 0 Comments

Intra-African trade is widely perceived as low compared to other regions of the world, an argument made ad nauseum in both academic and policymaking circles. Some observers are especially disparaging about its potential. One recent textbook on African economic development (Cramer et al., 2020:65) claims that:

“Despite decades of negotiations and agreements within subregions and RECs in Africa, intra-African trade remains a tiny proportion of the continent’s overall trade. … [While] greater intra-African trade may be rhetorically appealing on grounds of economic nationalism or South–South solidarity, as a blueprint for accelerated development it is a fantasy.”

We beg to differ and argue that intra-African trade has much greater economic significance than is commonly believed. The orthodox narrative is driven by three errors: 1) The comparisons made with other regional blocks are frequently misleading and do not compare like with like; 2) the picture of intra-African trade is distorted by large-scale commodity exports to destinations outside the continent; and 3) there is a systematic failure to recognize the scale of informal cross-border trade. Read More.

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