While there is a general optimism around the promise of the newly in-force African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), like any other free trade agreement (FTA), it will inevitably create winners and losers. This unequal distributional impact is a function of many possible factors, including manufacturing capacity, domestic costs of doing business, firm productivity, infrastructural capability, AfCFTA awareness levels, and access to loans and financing. Whether due to firm-level inefficiencies, information frictions, or the suboptimal business environments, some firms—or even sectors—within a country may be unable to expand market opportunities as competition from other continental economies rises. The AfCFTA drops 90 percent of tariffs and includes policies aimed at eliminating nontariff barriers, such as customs delays, so the aggregate long-term benefits of AfCFTA are likely to be substantial and larger than potential losses; however, some countries and sectors will likely be impacted negatively in the short term.

Nigeria—the largest economy in Africa—signed the AfCFTA on July 7, 2019, becoming the 34th member of the trading bloc. Under the AfCFTA, Nigeria stands to gain from increased access to cheaper goods and services from other African countries, as its intra-African trade is currently low: Indeed, as of 2018, Nigeria’s imports from the African region relative to total imports was at 3.2 percent while the share of Nigeria’s exports to the African region relative to total exports was 13.2 percent. Moreover, in 2020, Nigeria’s main trading partner was actually China.

Proponents of the FTA expect the AfCFTA to reduce poverty, increase firm competitiveness, and boost intra-African trade and investment. In fact, based on a recent survey of 1,804 Nigerian manufacturing enterprises, 6 out of 10 businesses expect the AfCFTA to lead to a reduction in material and labor costs, increase production capacity, expand market and consumer size, and reduce prices. Overall, Nigeria’s small and medium-sized businesses are optimistic about the opportunities created by AfCFTA, although with mixed feelings grounded in concerns about rising foreign competition and dumping of substandard goods.

As the trade agreement kicked off in the middle of a global pandemic coupled with a global recession, it is still unclear how the reduction in tariffs on goods and services will impact Nigeria’s households and businesses. However, a 2020 piece by Nassim Oulmane, Mustapha Sadni Jallab, and Patrice Rélouendé Zidouemba argues that the AfCFTA’s boost to intra-African trade might actually mitigate the rapid decline in GDP caused by COVID-19 and subsequent social-distancing policies and border closures.

Estimating the impacts of the AfCFTA for Nigeria

A tariff reduction enacted by one country has implications for its partners, suppliers, and competitors as it spills over to the rest of the world through trade networks and to other industries through supply chains. (For instance, a reduction in tariffs on cotton products impacts the prices of textiles.) These cascading effects across sectors and countries can be captured using a tractable numerical framework that can simulate the effects of shocks to countries and sectors and its implication on global trade patterns. To identify these effects and the transmission mechanisms resulting from the change in relative prices from trade liberalization on producers and consumers of intermediate and final goods at home and abroad, we employ a multisector, multicountry, quantitative model with linkages across sectors.  A regional tariff reduction is modeled as a higher productivity, as it leads to a reduction in relative prices and has implications for the exchange of goods across countries and regions. In this framework, households and firms then purchase more imported articles at cheaper prices, raising trade volumes and increasing household welfare. For the same reason, changes in relative prices of exports and imports induce higher demand for non-Nigerian-made products, depending on the variation in prices across sectors and countries. Therefore, even though there is a presumption of a positive impact, that may not be the case.

Figure 1. Predicted aggregate real wage effects (%) of the AfCFTA on Nigeria and rest of the world

Source: Static computable, multisector, multicountry trade model version, authors’ simulations.

Notes: A country’s real wage effect is the percentage change in real GDP from 2014 level associated with free trade across the African region only. Tariffs for other non-AfCFTA countries/region are set at 2014 effective rates. Declines in GDP are shown in red, whereas increases in GDP are in orange and blue. The model provides results for 27 African countries, 13 OECD countries, 14 other emerging economies, and the “rest” of Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, North America, and Australia (60 countries in total including the rest of the world). Simulation results assume a full employment, perfect foresight, and absence of trade imbalances and household’s dynamic intertemporal choices.

Quantifying real wage, price, trade, and welfare effects

In our analysis, we calibrate a model of trade to countries’ macroeconomic performance as at 2014 and then simulate the potential impacts on macroeconomic indicators associated with trade liberalization across the African region. We estimate the impacts on all countries under a scenario where there is free trade only with continental countries. Figure 1 presents the estimated percentage change in real wage associated with moving from tariff rates in 2014 to those under the AfCFTA for African countries, while tariff rates on other regions/countries remain at 2014 effective tariff rates. Our results have implications on real wage and welfare effects for Nigeria, 52 countries, six other regions of the world, and the rest of the world. Overall, we find that Nigeria will experience a 1.43 percent gain in value added compared to 2014 levels. Notably, the effects for Nigeria, although positive, are modest relative to the gains in real wage for other African countries. Our findings show that the AfCFTA will deliver larger gains to African countries with prior larger shares of imports from the region. Moreover, impacts of trade liberalization on real wage across African countries will be uneven: For example, Botswana, Angola, and Ghana will experience percentage changes in real wage of 16.6 percent, 12.5 percent, and 6.5 percent (dark blue in map), respectively, due to the AfCFTA.

Nigeria gains 1.55 percent in welfare. Decomposing welfare effects into effects due to change in volume of trade (1.14 percent) and effects due to change in terms of trade (0.41 percent) highlights the sources of Nigeria’s positive gain by sector. As shown in Figure 2, agriculture and fishing and other manufacturing industries account for 73 percent of the gains from volume of trade. A decline in terms of trade translates to a larger decline in export prices relative to import prices. “Other manufacturing goods” accounts for most gains in terms of trade while the agriculture and mining industries combined dilute gains by 32.6 percent.

Figure 2. Effect of AfCFTA on Nigeria’s volume of trade and terms of trade by sector

Figure 2. Effect of AfCFTA on Nigeria’s volume of trade and terms of trade by sector

Source: Static computable, multisector, multicountry trade model version, authors’ simulations.

Notes: Volume of trade is sectoral trade relative to Nigeria’s total trade. Terms of trade is calculated as difference in sectoral price of export and import as a share of total price differences in all sectors. Welfare effects is the sum of the volume of trade (VoT) and terms of trade (ToT) effects. A negative ToT means the sector dilutes the positive gains. Sectoral contribution for ToT and VoT adds up to 100 percent.

Prices for agricultural and manufacturing commodities will go down, but some others will go up

Based on our simulations, the AfCFTA will lead to reductions in prices of agricultural and manufacturing commodities. In fact, the decline in sectoral prices ranges from 0.8 percent in electrical and machinery to 8 percent in metal (Figure 3). Moreover, through sectoral linkages and changes in relative prices of imported goods, we find the AfCFTA will lead to an increase in prices of non-tradable services such as information services; transportation and warehousing; and finance and insurance services.

Figure 3. Price effects of AfCFTA on Nigeria’s economic sectors

Figure 3. Price effects of AfCFTA on Nigeria’s economic sectors

Source: Static computable, multisector, multicountry trade model version, authors’ simulations.

Even with better infrastructure under the AfCFTA and the under-construction train networks between Kaduna and Lagos (the commercial center of Nigeria, which hosts the maritime ports for articles traded to/from the southern and western parts of Africa), intra- and international transportation costs remain high in the short run. A recent article in Nigerian newspaper The Punch finds that the price of shipping a container from the Apapa port in Lagos to the mainland (distance of just 20 kilometers) is almost the same as shipping one container from Nigeria to China. These types of costs will rise as the AfCFTA is implemented because of increases in the demand for inter-country haulage and shipping. In other words, intra-regional transportation cost variation impacts production costs and prices of traded articles as well as trade flows across countries. Changes in trade patterns then drive the uneven distributional impacts on consumption, real wage, and welfare across regions and countries, depending on changes in tariff rates on traded products.

Before the AfCFTA, 38 percent of Nigeria’s exports were in the mining and petro-chemical industries. Now, our simulations suggest a slight decline in exports for the following sectors: mining; wood and paper; petro-chemicals; metal products; and other manufacturing articles. Successful implementation of the AfCFTA will also induce a 6.3 percent increase in exports of agricultural products and 1.3 percent increase in food and beverage exports as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Export effects of AfCFTA on the Nigerian economy

Figure 4. Export effects of AfCFTA on the Nigerian economy

Source: Static computable, multisector, multicountry,  trade model version, authors’ simulations. U.N. Commodity trade database.

Notes: Before AfCFTA’s export share is based on UNCOMTRADE data, and After AfCFTA is based on simulation results.

As touted by policy experts, the AfCFTA has the potential to lift Nigerians out of poverty and raise manufacturing output. However, to realize this potential, Nigeria must follow targeted industrial policy and structural reforms; upgrade customs infrastructure; address the domestic cost of doing business; reduce bottlenecks, port processes, and transportation costs; promote digital marketing and e-commerce; and create targeted awareness about the AfCFTA policy. A survey of Nigerian businesses conducted by the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA) shows that over 60 percent of Nigeria’s businesses are still unaware of the recently signed AfCFTA agreement. Even with potential benefits for firms, there are information costs reflected in different levels of awareness. Firms who don’t know AfCFTA exists are unable to take advantage of the tariff arrangements or even benefit from the policy. Until businesses are aware, the costs of trading under AFCFTA will remain high.

Note: The views expressed herein are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the Federal Reserve System, nor the Brookings Institution.


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