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The slowdown in the euro zone economy in 2011 is expected to deepen in 2012, with recent evidence indicating that the debt ridden single currency bloc is in a «mild recession”. Historical evidence shows that recessions tend to bring about protectionist policy measures as a means to cushion against the impact of external shocks.
The global recession of 2008-09 was accompanied by bailout funds (stimulus packages) to shore up the private sector as bank credit dried up. However, recent budgetary pressures and sovereign credit downgrades imply that such subsidies may no longer be affordable, especially in Europe. Recent evidence suggests that under the economic conditions prevailing in Europe, the re-emergence of traditional forms of protectionism as a buffer should not be brushed off. This means that the debt crisis in Europe has increased the likelihood that member countries could resort to regulatory based interventions to protect local private firms severely affected by the crisis.
Data from Global Trade Alert shows that since the G20 summit held in November 2008 to discuss the effects of the global financial crisis, close to 200 trade protection measures have been instituted. This has had deleterious effects on commercial interests of LDCs, including Africa. Export taxes and tariff measures accounted for 41% of total policy instruments, whereas export subsidies, non-tariff barriers and state aid measures (bailouts) constituted 43%. Nine of the twelve countries that have been subjected to forty or more protectionist measures during the same period are in Africa (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Number of times commercial interests were harmed (Nov 2008 to 27 October 2011)
;Of these countries, Tanzania and Sudan were the most exposed to protectionist measures of varying intensity and form. For instance, close to 90% of the 61 measures facing Tanzania are in form of export subsidies, export tax restrictions, tariff and non-tariff measures and state aid measures. The same group of measures accounted for 80% and 92% of total trade measures facing Sudan and Senegal, respectively. The G20, on average, accounted for close to half of the trade measures facing the three countries. Non-OECD member countries, Latin American countries and other Asian states accounted for the remaining half.
In relative to terms, African governments have not resorted to protectionism on the scale of industrialized countries and developing country peers during the global economic slowdown of 2008-2009 as well as the current recession. The total number of protectionist measures introduced by African countries between November 2008 and October 2011 stood at 89 compared with 340 by the G8, 762 by the G20 and 259 by the EU27. Nonetheless, Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa, account for 60% of the measures introduced by African countries although the exposure of other African countries to these measures was lower relative to those imposed by developed countries.
In 2011 Q3, an unprecedented number of protectionist measures were introduced globally, rivaling the 77 recorded instances of protectionism at the start of the previous economic crisis in 2009 Q1. These new measures were varied and had wider reach. For instance, India re-introduced the Duty Entitlement Passbook Scheme for cotton yarn exports, entitling import duty credits to exporting firms with high intermediates-import duty bill. This measure is reportedly expected to affect commercial interests in 60 countries, 8 of which are in Africa (Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia). Similarly, the introduction of export quota on non-ferrous metals by China could affect 67 countries of which 11 are African.
The liquidity constraint among Euro-zone banks triggered by the debt crisis and the political cost of continuing with bailout measures could push Euro-zone countries towards more protectionist trade policies in the future as they seek to cushion the local private sector from the effects of the crisis.
Already, the cost of such measures to Africa has been significant and could escalate. Previous measures have been manifested in low level of exports, both in terms of volume and earnings. Between 2010 Q4 and 2011 Q3, growth in export volumes in Africa was consistently negative (see Figure 2). The reduction in trade flows could result in widening trade deficits.
Figure 2: Growth rate in exports volume (quarter-on-quarter)