in: The Journal of International Trade & Economic Development, first published 12.12.2022
In several African regions, economic integration has successfully reduced tariff protection by freezing the opportunity to raise applied tariffs against fellow integration partners above those promised. We examine whether these regional tariff commitments have come at the expense of adverse side-effects on the prevalence of non-tariff trade barriers. Comparing the effects of applied tariff overhangs – the difference between MFN bound tariffs and effectively applied tariffs – towards all vis-à-vis African trading partners on SPS and TBT notifications of 35 African WTO members from 2001-2017, we find no general relationship between tariff overhangs and import regulation in our preferred model setting. Larger tariff overhangs specific to intra-African trade relations, however, increase the probability of SPS measures and TBT and thereby contrast with the common assumption of the former functioning as a flexible policy valve. We see the nature of Africa’s formal trade relations as an explanation for these findings. While regional tariff commitments have not only significantly moved African countries away from multilateral commitments, they have also sharply reduced their tariff policy space within Africa, thus seemingly leaving regulatory policy as one of the few legitimate options to level the playing field with the by far closest market competitors.