For decades, re-export trade constituted a major segment of Gambia’s economic activity, with about 80 percent of Gambian merchandise exports consisting of re-exports to several countries in the West Africa sub-region. Relatively low import taxes, an efficient well-functioning port and customs services, and limited administrative bottlenecks reinforced Gambia’s position as a trading center.
The Gambia economy was greatly boosted by revenue generated from this trade because imported goods destined for re-export pay the normal import duties.
However, there are indications that Gambia’s re-export trade has been steadily declining and is unlikely to be sustainable due mainly to a combination of factors, among which are the uncooperative attitude of Senegalese border officials, harmonisation of import and sales taxes in the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) sub-region, and much improved port and customs operations in Senegal and other neighboring countries.
A Gambian businessman who spoke to The Progress Newspaper on the condition of anonymity fingered the sister republic of Senegal as being majorly responsible for the declining fortunes in Gambia’s re-export trade.
He claims that Senegalese officials hinder movement of goods from The Gambia at the borders. He said the Senegalese usually employ delay tactics, such as claiming they have to first do some paperwork in Dakar before clearing passage for vehicles carrying merchandise from Gambia. He also said this is prevalent at the Selety Border Post, which is supposed to be a major crossing point, and where most of Gambia’s re-export trade passes through.
The businessman pointed out that Gambians do always complain they can’t stand the actions of the Senegalese towards the commodities on transit.
“We face a lot of challenges with the re-export trade and what the clients are complaining about is, they have been having problems with the Senegalese authorities even though the ECOWAS protocols guarantee free movement of goods among members states.
They [Senegalese] are doing this just to discourage others from taking their goods through Senegal. In fact they prefer merchants from countries like Mali, Guinea Conakry and Guinea Bissau to come and buy directly from Senegal,” he added.
He also hinted that the Port of Ziguinchor in the Southern Senegalese region of Casamance is now fully operational. As a result, agricultural and other products passing through The Gambia and destined for Southern Senegal and other neighbouring countries now come through the Zinguinchor Port.
Meanwhile, the Cashew Association of Senegal insists that Senegalese Cashew cannot enter The Gambia.
“Our trade is suffering but I don’t want to castigate Senegal for any reason because there is this mentality that Senegalese authorities are trying to sabotage the country’s economy, but we have to blame ourselves as a nation,” the businessman averred.
He expressed worry that many Gambian-based merchants now prefer to import through Senegal, as they claim it is now quicker and easier to bring in goods through the Dakar Port. The result is loss of revenue for The Gambia, as some of the goods are smuggled into the country due to porous borders.
The Gambian businessman blamed the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) through the Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA) for increasing tariffs, making charges at Banjul Port higher than Dakar.
“When we make payments everywhere as businessmen and traders, we have no other alternative than to increase the prices of basic commodities in order to make profit,” he added.
He called on the government of The Gambia through the relevant authority to remedy the situation, saying that it is getting out of hand.
When The Progress Newspaper contacted the GRA, we were told that the authority is not mandated to impose, reduce, or increase taxes, and that such responsibility lies with the National Assembly law making body in the country.
Meanwhile, information posted by the Ministry of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment claims that the value of Gambia’s re-exports trade considerably increased by 178.1% in 2019. The increase in re-export trade is mainly due to an increased in the re-export of petroleum products mainly to Mali which has increased from D166.6 million in 2018 to D802.4 million in 2019.
When contacted for clarification, the Ministry of Trade told The Progress Newspaper that the person familiar with the issue is presently out of the jurisdiction.