The ECO-ICBT database of cross-border trade in agricultural products in ECOWAS

Recent reports and economic literature clearly show that intra-African trade is not well measured by official databases, such as those compiled by NSOs and international institutions. This is especially true in West Africa since ECOWAS eliminated duties on intraregional trade. ECOWAS is a customs union with free trade among member countries for Produits du cru (local products). The lack of high-quality trade data is largely explained by the weakness of formal data collection systems (hampered by under-declaration, misclassification, lack of incentives for customs agents due to exoneration of customs duties, and so on). Yet accurate trade statistics are paramount for designing policies for food security, monitoring progress toward important goals (such as the Malabo target or the African Continental Free Trade Area), and providing the private sector with valuable information.

This document describes the new ECO-ICBT (ECOWAS Informal Cross Border trade) database of cross-border trade in agricultural and food products among ECOWAS countries, Chad, and Mauritania. Trade data on 178 products, corresponding to 67 HS6 codes, are collected by AOCTAH-WACTAF every day in all marketplaces and along all corridors of the region, through a collaboration with apex organizations in agrifood sectors. The data collection methodology is presented as well as statistics on the trade of agri-food products between ECOWAS countries, Chad, and Mauritania for 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. These statistics are then compared to those from COMTRADE, the United Nation’s trade database.

Analysis of the ECO-ICBT data reveals that intraregional trade is dominated by animals, animal products, and maize. These products represent more than 50 percent of intraregional trade flows by value. Over the entire period of observation, road transportation is the main mode used by traders, and the main means of transport are trucks and mini-trucks.

The systematic comparison of ECO-ICBT and COMTRADE data reveals that on trade flows recorded by ECO-ICBT, the COMTRADE database misses between 97 and 99 percent of trade recorded by ECO-ICBT. Therefore, we conclude that the COMTRADE database provides extremely poor coverage of intraregional trade in agriculture, food, and fishery products in West Africa and that the ECO-ICBT database fills a critical statistical gap.


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