unctad.org | Borderline: Women in Informal Cross-border Trade in Malawi, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia
Borderline: Women in Informal Cross-border Trade in Malawi, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia
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Informal cross-border trade is defined as trade in legitimately produced goods and services that escapes the regulatory framework established by the government, thereby avoiding certain tax and regulatory burdens. These goods and services may be traded by (1) informal (unregistered) traders operating entirely outside the formal economy and passing through unofficial routes, or by (2) formal (registered) traders who fully or partially evade traderelated regulations and duties.

Informal cross-border trade has been a major feature of African economic and social landscapes dating back to the colonial era. 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 it continues to play a large role in Africa.

Informal cross-border trade supports livelihoods, particularly in remote rural locations. It creates jobs, especially for vulnerable groups such as poor women and unemployed youth, and it contributes to food security in that it largely features raw agricultural products and processed food items. A key feature of informal cross-border trade is that most traders are women, and for these women such trade is often their main or even only source of income. According to UN Women (2010), women constitute about 70 per cent of the informal cross-border traders in the SADC region.

Allowing cross-border traders to flourish, grow, and gradually integrate into the formal economy would boost trade and the private sector, in turn supporting growth and development, while increasing governments’ revenues and therefore their ability to provide public goods.

This report focuses on cross-border trade in three selected countries: Malawi, the United Republic of Tanzania, and Zambia. These countries were selected because of the critical role and transformative potential of cross-border trade for their economic growth, regional integration, and economic empowerment of women.

The analysis is put in the context of the regional trade agreements that apply to the three countries and has a strong focus on the specificities of female crossborder traders.

The report first briefly summarizes the economic profiles of Malawi, the United Republic of Tanzania, and Zambia. It then presents informal cross-border trade flows among the three countries, as well as the profiles of cross-border traders and the characteristics of the products they trade.

The core of the report deals with the barriers faced by crossborder traders at the border and the supply-side obstacles that hinder their growth opportunities.

The report concludes with policy recommendations on how to further use cross-border trade for the benefit of women, regional integration, and inclusive growth.

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