Improve transport infrastructure and the competitiveness of West Africa
The Sub-Regional Office for West Africa of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA/SRO-WA), in collaboration with the Senegalese Government, organized an ad-hoc experts’ group meeting on the theme: "Transport infrastructure and trade in West Africa", in Dakar the 22 and 23 November 2016.
The primary aim of the meeting was to take stock of the transport infrastructure in West Africa and assess their impact on intra-regional trade and the competitiveness of the sub-region and regional integration.
The meeting was attended by experts from Member States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), representatives of United Nations institutions and private sector operators working in the field of transport, trade or infrastructure.
In his welcome address, Professor Dimitri Sanga, Director of the ECA/SRO-WA, underscored the importance of transport infrastructure in the production of goods and services and its active contribution to the improvement of competitiveness. They provide access to key resources, reduce barriers to the free movement of persons and goods and improve access to markets for goods and services. He added that the transport infrastructure supports the development of cross-border trade, substantially reduce the cost of certain inputs, promote the development of intra-Community trade and provide the economies with improved access to sub-regional, regional and global markets.
Professor Dimitri Sanga moreover deplored the fact that infrastructure shortage in West Africa generates an annual loss of 2 percentage points of growth and severely impedes the productivity of businesses. Indeed, the sub-region has a road network density of only 2.8 Km/100Km² and ranks last among the five sub-regions of the continent, far behind Southern Africa which has 13.5 Km/100Km² against an African average of 7.6 Km/100Km². Moreover, the rate of access to a road in West Africa is only 34%, against an average of 50% developing countries.
On the whole, the statistics available reveal that West Africa lags way behind in terms of infrastructure, in general and transport infrastructure, in particular. The density of the railway network is only 1.9 km/1000 km² against a continental average of 2.5 km/1000 km². As regards maritime transport, the sub-region represents less than 1% of the world container traffic and just over 2% of the entire African traffic. Besides, even though the domestic air transport market is the second largest in Africa after that of Southern Africa, it conceals a relatively weak intra-West African market.
To conclude, Professor Sanga indicated that the construction and maintenance of transport infrastructure weigh heavily on the budgets of States. There is thus need for innovative financing strategies, given the weakness of national tax areas and a private sector participation that is still virtually non-existent. He commended the initiative of some countries of the sub-region, notably Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal, which have been sending a strong signal over the last 5 years for the promotion of transport infrastructure financing through the PPP approach; a fresh momentum which deserves to be strengthened and encouraged.
In his opening statement, Mr Amadou Waxed Touré representing the Senegalese Minister of Economy, Finance and Planning, unable to attend, recalled ECOWAS’ aim to gradually increase intra-Community trade from less than 12% in 2012 to 40% in 2030. Such an intensification of intra-regional trade will depend, to a large extent, on the capacity of the sub-region to have the transport infrastructure required to reduce the cost of transactions and increase competitiveness.
He noted that even though the majority of roads along the West African corridors are in good condition, they have a certain number of bottlenecks including long delivery delays, poor institutional harmonization between countries and axle loads that cause damages the already poorly developed infrastructure.
The representative of the Minister further pointed out that freight costs in West Africa are the second highest in the continent after those of Central Africa, and the development of the railway network has declined due to the intense competition of road transport.
To conclude, Mr Amadou Ciré Touré indicated that in addition to the removal of obstacles to trade, there is need to strengthen productive capacities and improve customs procedures in order to develop sub-regional trade. It is therefore urgent to address transversal challenges confronting the development of transportation and trade facilitation in the ECOWAS region, notably the promotion of human resource development in support of the sector and the adoption of a more global and integrated approach in strengthening the links between transport infrastructure and trade in West Africa.