The World Bank has advised African governments to keep their trading borders open for business despite the coronavirus outbreak to aid the free flow of medical supplies, food and other essentials while fighting 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 per cent of the region’s population with such trading activities dominated by agricultural and livestock products – essential to maintaining food security.
Hence, following the World Bank’s advice to governments on the continent to keep borders open, despite border closures gaining international approval.
In an April 2020 Africa Pulse report by the World Bank said:
“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.”
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.
Additionally, the Bank spoke on Africa’s importation of medicines.
“African countries depend heavily on imports of medical supplies, with 94 per cent 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 urged that import bans not based on scientific evidence will limit the availability of certain foodstuffs with the increase in prices for local consumers; hence, measures should be taken to maintain and not disrupt food supply chains to reduce the impact on livelihoods, with attention given to the poor and vulnerable.
Again, the Bank said, trade policy reforms should also be geared towards the reduction in 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 planned to reduce the need for close contact between traders, transporters and border officials, to protect stakeholders and limit the spread of the virus while maintaining essential movements to ensure revenue, health, and security.