TradeMark East Africa turns west, aims to improve Lagos-Abidjan trade route

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Friday, 11 February 2022 16:54

Frank Matsaert, CEO of TradeMark East Africa. Photo supplied.

Aid-for-trade organisation TradeMark East Africa plans to take a step towards pan-African scale by setting up operations in West Africa, CEO Frank Matsaert tells The Africa Report.

The secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) asked TradeMark to look at West Africa, and it has secured an initial grant from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Matsaert says. TradeMark will be seeking to get further grants and private-sector funding, he adds. “Our aim is to become a pan-African trade facilitator.”

The Abidjan-Lagos corridor connects Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria. It accounts for more than 75% of West Africa’s trade. A TradeMark team recently drove from Abidjan to Lagos to assess the situation on the ground. They found an “infrastructure deficit” at the borders, conflicting rules and standards, and a lack of digitised customs systems, Matsaert says. West African national systems also lack digital connectivity to communicate with each other, he adds.

In September, TradeMark signed a memorandum of understanding with the AfCFTA secretariat in Togo. Matsaert was in Ghana in December and found “a lot of demand for change at the borders” and a “political willingness” to achieve it. Matsaert will return for talks with officials at the end of February and aims to set up a TradeMark office in Ghana in 2022.

  • Priorities will be to put a facility on the Ghana-Togo border into operation and tackle the regional “pinch-point” of the Benin-Nigeria border, Matsaert says.
  • An early target will be to create an integrated border management system to reduce the number of required border stops.
  • TradeMark will also analyse how to improve efficiency at West Africa’s ports. “There are quick wins that can be achieved.”

Green trade

TradeMark East Africa was created in 2010 as a non-profit organisation with the aim of reducing barriers to trade in the region. The body, which has its headquarters in Nairobi, is funded by development agencies in Europe and North America.

Matsaert says that in East Africa, TradeMark has been able to reduce border waiting times by about 70%. The long-term benefits of cutting obstacles to trade include lower consumer prices and less capital-intensive businesses, he says.

The organisation seeks to find ways to reduce carbon emissions while expanding trade. More efficient ports are crucial to doing so, Matsaert  says. Faster turnarounds mean reduced emissions, as ships burn less fuel while they wait.

  • In July 2021, TradeMark secured a €29.9m ($34.1m) grant from the Agence Française de Développement to promote trade in the Horn of Africa.
  • TradeMark aims to boost the use of cold-chain storage to reduce the use of air freight and encourage rail and sea as greener alternatives.
  • TradeMark also wants to see the deployment of solar power to support digitised port processes in the region.
  • Across the corridors where it works, TradeMark aims to reduce emissions by about 15%.
  • The body also aims to develop a green label for consumers to show that goods have reduced carbon footprints.

The bottom line

TradeMark is scaling up its ambitions from a regional to a continental level.

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