Africa is hampering trade restrictions on goods for the fight against Covid-19

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The African region is the hardest hit by trade restrictions that restrict the flow of goods used in the fight against coronavirus, according to a report published this week. On the contrary, African countries export many of the materials used to produce masks, gloves and disinfectants that could instead be used for their own production.

“74 percent of African imports of Covid-19-related products are prohibited or restricted,” says The International Trade Center (ITC) said in a report.

The fight against the coronavirus pandemic left many countries around the world to secure vital equipment used to stop the spread of the virus and protect front-line healthcare professionals.

Some countries restricted the export of certain medical products or had licensing systems or licensing which made it more difficult for importing countries to secure important supplies.

ITC analyzed trade data on disinfectants, sterilizers, medical supplies, test kits, medical and surgical equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE) and oxygen therapy equipment.

The agency, which works on behalf of the UN and the World Trade Organization, judged that the proportion of Covid-19-related imports affected by restrictions was “highest in Africa,” according to ITC report will be published on Monday.

“Some regions have been hit harder than others by trade limits for Covid-19-related products,” the report adds. “Few African countries restrict the export of goods related to Covid-19, largely attributable to the fact that they do not manufacture them.”

Africa could produce its own

Countries on the African continent could become self-sufficient in their own virus-related products, especially masks, gloves and disinfectants, according to ITC.

The regional exports of these products are not enough to meet the needs of African front line workers, but the efforts or materials needed to manufacture these medical products are on the continent to develop supply chains.

Medical or surgical gloves use mostly latex and many countries on the African continent have a significant range of rubber that they sell abroad, but few gloves are exported.

“Ivory Coast and Cameroon are already exporting surgical gloves, but African demand exceeds supply. By using 6 percent of its monthly export of latex, the two countries can produce the 13 million gloves that African health responders need each month to meet Covid-19, ”the report explained.

Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria also export latex, but do not export any surgical gloves, according to ITC data.

It’s a similar story for filtered masks, the most sophisticated type of face mask healthcare professionals need to protect themselves against the spread of Covid-19 and stop the droplets transmitting the virus.

The African continent exports 3.5 percent of the world’s supply of synthetic nonwoven fabrics used in filtered masks, but the production of these masks on the continent is limited.

By allocating 7 percent of their synthetic nonwoven fabrics for manufacturing in Africa, countries can meet their own monthly requirements and eradicate import needs, the report estimated.

The ITC described a similar example for disinfectants since the required ethanol and plastic bottles are already in abundance in African countries, especially manufactured in Egypt and South Africa. Glycerin, the other ingredient needed for disinfectants, is not produced in sufficient quantity locally but can be obtained globally.

free trade

Wamkele Mene, Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), said African companies in the future may benefit from the lack of manufacturing of medical goods that Covid-19 has highlighted.

“The AfCFTA Secretariat encourages member states to turn this crisis into an opportunity by repositioning their production to produce an extraordinary increase in the manufacture of drugs, personal protective equipment, soap, hand sanitizer, intensive care units, test kits and even ventilators,” Sa Mene i an op-ed published in the report.

Covid-19 forced a delay in the implementation of the continent’s free trade zone, potentially one of the world’s largest free trade blocs, which had been set on July 1. Mene has said he hopes the agreement could come into force in early 2021.

Mene said that the coronavirus pandemic and associated economic downturn should “provide a powerful basis for the immediate implementation of AfCFTA, as a means of stimulating economic growth and building resilience across the continent”.

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