The World Bank has advised African governments to keep their trade borders open for business despite the coronavirus outbreak, in order to ensure the free flow of medical supplies, food and other essentials which will aid the fight against the pandemic.
According to the Bretton Woods institution, as of the end of March this year, 31 countries in the region had closed their borders. Meanwhile, small-scale cross-border trade contributes to the livelihood of about 43 percent of the region’s population, predominantly the poor and women; and such trading activities are also dominated by agricultural and livestock products – essential to maintaining food security.
Hence its advice to governments on the continent to keep borders open, despite border closures gaining international approval.
“Borders need to be kept open as much as possible for trade while being consistent with a strategy of containment, and in line with the multilateral provisions of transit. Although deemed necessary to contain spread of the virus, closed borders make it difficult for medical supplies and other necessities of life to reach people,” the World Bank said in its Africa’s Pulse report (April 2020).
It further warned that export restrictions will raise the price and limit the supply of COVID-19-related goods and food to critically affected areas or hotspots.
“Experience from previous crises shows that imposing export restrictions on medical and food products limits their access – particularly to the poorest, who will be adversely affected the most. Export restrictions adopted by African and other countries during the crisis affect not only the costs and availability of COVID-related medical supplies, but also necessities…mainly food.
“African countries depend heavily on imports of medical supplies, with 94 percent of pharmaceuticals in the region imported from outside. Export bans within the region prevent the continental supply from being allocated to where it is needed the most. Within the region, export bans on food lower domestic prices, which reduces the incentive to grow food crops in the next season,” the bank said.
The World Bank further urges that any import bans not based on scientific evidence will limit the availability of certain foodstuffs and increase prices for local consumers; hence, measures should be taken to maintain and not disrupt food supply chains to reduce the impact on livelihoods, especially on the poor and most vulnerable.
Again, the Bank said, trade policy reforms should also be geared toward reducing the cost and improving the availability of COVID-19-related goods and services; reducing tax and administrative burdens on importers and exporters; reducing the cost of food and other products heavily consumed by the poor; contributing to the macro-economic measures introduced to limit the negative economic and social impacts of the COVID-19-related downturn; and supporting the eventual economic recovery and building resilience to future crises.
It also said reforms can be designed to reduce the need for close contact between traders, transporters and border officials, to protect stakeholders and limit spread of the virus while maintaining essential movements to ensure revenue, health, and security.