The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) has urged Malawi to pay attention to women cross-border traders and further use cross-border trade for the benefit of women, regional integration, and inclusive growth.
In a recently published report titled Women in informal cross-border trade in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia, Unctad observes that informal cross-border trade has been a major feature of African economic and social landscapes; hence, the need to be fostered.
“Malawi should among others consider better tailoring of simplified trade regimes to the needs of small-scale traders, promoting the uptake of those regimes, creating awareness and sensitisation initiatives targeting border authorities and improving access to finance to ease barriers faced by cross-border traders,” reads the report in part.
According to UN Women (2010), women constitute about 70 per cent of the informal cross-border traders in the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) region.
The female predominance in informal cross-border trade is often attributed to women’s time and mobility constraints, as well as to their limited access to productive resources and support systems, making such trade one of the few options available to them to earn a living.
Unctad, however, notes even though women play a critical role in cross-border trade, they often only benefit marginally from their trading activity due to a number of factors, including policy, institutional, cultural, economic, and regulatory issues.
“African cross-border traders, especially women, are constrained by such issues as high duty and tax levels, poor border facilities, cumbersome bureaucracies, lengthy clearance processes, weak governance at the border, lack of understanding of the rules, and corruption,” said the report.
But despite such challenges, president of Malawi Cross Border Traders Association, Esther Chukambiri observed in an earlier interview that cross border businesses are growing now more than before; and that a lot of people, mostly women, are in the trade.
“Apart from problems relating to cross-border trade like lack of finance for trade, market infrastructures and verbal harassments, to mention a few, economically cross-border trade has transformed many unemployed women into bread winners, sometimes with income that far exceeds those of their spouses.
“This helps in poverty reduction by creating employment for other women who may be left to care for the children or as employees tending flea market stalls,” she said.
Assistant director of trade in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Diamond Chikhasu earlier told Business News that plans are underway to construct special market infrastructure for cross boarder traders.
“Cross-border traders are very critical to the economy of Malawi because they are contributing about 30-40 percent of economic operations in the country. That is not a mean feat and we need to focus our energies towards that sector,” he said.
While it is difficult to precisely assess the magnitude of such trade due to lack of consistent measurement tools and accurate data, estimates suggest that cross-border trade continues to play a large role in Africa. In Sadc, for example, informal cross-border trade amount to $17.6 billion per year, approximately 30 to 40 percent of total regional trade.