While tariffs are an important source of government income in low-income countries, they are also a source of inefficiency and lobbying. Regional agreements are one way to reduce these trade barriers. Other measures such as the reduction of non-tariff barriers, and rationalization and harmonization of regulations, also aim to facilitate trade.
FERDI studies all these measures which affect trade in goods at the regional level, in particular by comparing trade policies within the main regional agreements: ECOWAS, ECA, CEMAC, COMESA, WAEMU and the Continental Free Trade Area (ZLEC) which came into force in May 2019. FERDI is also studying 'deep' regional integration measures which go beyond trade in goods (mobility of people, capital, regional public goods, etc).
There is a fear that the proliferation of Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs), such as phytosanitary regulations and technical barriers, may reflect a protectionist rather than a precautionary objective.
FERDI members have produced two publications which bring together the latest advances in NTM analysis. In the light of the lessons from case studies, Cadot et al (2018) argue in favor of rationalizing NTMs at the regional level rather than eliminating them. In their paper published by UNCTAD, Melo and Nicita (2018) discuss the difficulties of understanding NTMs and analyzing the effects of NTMs on trade. They also collect a dozen case studies (mainly on agricultural products) of NTMs faced by the exporters of the main products exported by countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. These studies show an increase in the measures applied by OECD countries. (Read: "The implications of non-tariff measures for developing countries' exports" by Jaime de Melo, Alessandro Nicita).
The activities of export promotion organizations have rarely been studied in Sub-Saharan Africa. A survey of a dozen institutions conducted by FERDI and ITC, reveals that these institutions are new and small compared to those in other regions, that their successes are mainly in agriculture, and that there is convergence in the themes addressed. In general, internet use is not included in the activities, and little effort has been made to encourage firms to join regional or global value chains.
FERDI continues its assessment of the roadmap of the Abuja Treaty to aim at an African Economic Union. The foundation is active in the specialized media by its blog posts and contributions to collective books.
FERDI is notable for its Index of State Commitment to Regional Integration, which is the first effort to dissociate the measures taken (those reflected in the texts) from the results of regional integration (in terms of trade volume and diversity of exports). FERDI also closely monitors the convergence criteria in African currency areas and is involved in modifying these criteria.
FERDI’s researchers have long been involved in analyzing the effects of rules of origin on trade. The evidence provided on the effects of a loosening of rules of origin in the Jordan-EU Free Trade Agreement to alleviate the refugee problem in Jordan was instrumental in the EU's decision to relax these rules for a period of 5 years.
FERDI participated in the drafting of the African Development Bank's African Economic Outlook 2019 report’s, Chapter 3 "Integration for Prosperity in Africa" whose main theme is the neglect of regional public goods.
Now that the continental free trade agreement is in place, in partnership with ACET and EDCPM FERDI will work in more detail on the challenges faced by regional public goods.