Christopher Roy Garland on cross-border trade and investment in Africa


Christopher Roy Garland, Managing Director of Fidelity Indemnity (Pty) Limited in Botswana, advises individuals and firms doing business in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which consists of 16 nations. Here he talks about cross-border trade and investment in Africa.

Cross-border trade and investment in Africa have been pivotal in shaping the continent’s economic landscape. Despite the potential for significant economic growth and integration, several challenges hinder the full realization of these benefits. 

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) aims to create a single market for goods and services, facilitating free movement and deepening the economic integration of the continent.

The State of Cross-Border Trade and Investment in the SADC Region

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is a regional economic community that’s made up of 16 member states. The organization seeks to enhance socio-economic integration and cooperation, as well as political and security collaboration among its member states. SADC has made strides in liberalizing trade among member states, significantly boosting intra-regional trade since the establishment of the SADC Free Trade Area in 2008

Despite these efforts, cross-border trade and investment within the SADC region face numerous challenges. These include infrastructural deficiencies, regulatory and administrative inefficiencies, and non-tariff barriers that impede the smooth flow of goods and services across borders. Additionally, the region’s economies are highly dependent on the export of primary commodities, which are subject to volatile international market prices and limit the potential for industrial diversification.

Here are what I consider to be some of the common current challenges in cross-border trade and investment:

  1. Infrastructure Deficits: Inadequate transport networks, such as roads and railways, significantly increase the cost and time of moving goods across borders.
  2. Regulatory and Administrative Barriers: Complex customs procedures and inconsistent regulatory policies create uncertainties and increase the cost of doing business across borders.
  3. Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs): These include quotas, embargoes, sanctions, and other restrictions, which are often used by countries to protect their domestic industries from foreign competition.
  4. Economic Disparities: Significant economic disparities between SADC member states can lead to dominance by more economically powerful countries, creating imbalances and potential resistance from less developed nations.

Strategies for overcoming these challenges

To enhance cross-border trade and investment in the SADC region, I believe several strategic interventions are necessary:

  1. Improving Infrastructure: Investment in cross-border infrastructure such as roads, railways, and ports is crucial. This can be facilitated through public-private partnerships and international funding.
  2. Harmonizing Regulations and Procedures: SADC countries need to harmonize customs regulations and procedures to reduce the time and cost associated with cross-border trade. Implementing common standards and policies can also help.
  3. Eliminating Non-Tariff Barriers: There should be concerted efforts to identify and eliminate NTBs that hinder trade within the region. This requires transparent dialogue and cooperation between SADC member states.
  4. Promoting Diversification and Value Addition: Encouraging the development of diverse industries and adding value to raw materials locally can reduce dependency on primary commodities and enhance economic resilience.
  5. Enhancing Trade Facilitation: Implementing advanced technology systems for customs such as the Single Window system can streamline the processing of trade documentation, reducing delays and lowering costs.
  6. Strengthening Regional Cooperation: Strengthening institutional frameworks within SADC to support integration policies and practices is essential. This includes enhancing the capacity of regional bodies to enforce agreements and resolve disputes.

Final thoughts

While the SADC region has made significant progress in facilitating cross-border trade and investment, much remains to be done to overcome the existing challenges. By implementing the strategies outlined above, I believe that the SADC can enhance its economic integration, ultimately leading to increased growth, stability, and prosperity for its member states. The success of these efforts, however, will depend on the commitment and cooperation of all member states to create a more open and integrated regional market.