Most African countries can export goods to the EU tariff free

20 November 2019
What was claimed

The EU has put up trade barriers with African countries.

Our verdict

The majority of African countries have no tariffs on exports to the EU, although a handful do face some tariffs.

“As part of the European Union we've put these barriers up against African countries and many others from selling their produce to us, freed from the European Union we can do more good to help Africa and the third world.”

Nigel Farage, 19 November 2019

In last night’s ITV election interview with Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party mentioned trade barriers the EU puts up against African countries which prevents them from selling their produce. 

So how punitive are these trade barriers?

African countries have a range of different trading arrangements with the EU and it’s difficult to count precisely how many face trade barriers. Of the 55 African countries, we’ve counted 44 which don’t seem to face any tariffs on goods under EU schemes designed to support the least developed countries. 

Of the remaining 11:

  • Four North African countries have a free trade deal with the EU which eliminate tariffs with some exceptions for food (though a limited volume of food products can still be imported tariff-free), and one more country (the Western Sahara) has the same arrangement
  • One (Cape Verde) can export around two-thirds of goods tariff free
  • Two (Nigeria and the Republic of Congo) can export around two thirds of products with reduced tariffs (for example Nigerian imports of cocoa powder face a 2.8% tariff, but with no arrangement the tariff would be 8%)
  • One (South Africa) has its own tariff arrangements with reduced tariffs on some goods
  • Two (Libya and Gabon) have no preferential trade terms with the EU

So Mr Farage has a point that the EU has some tariffs on African imports, but the vast majority of the African continent can export goods tariff-free to the EU.

It’s not the first time we’ve heard claims like this before on the EU’s trading relationship with Africa and while Mr Farage is not technically wrong on this occasion, the general argument is sometimes expressed inaccurately.

It’s also worth noting that the EU’s scheme of preferential tariffs with African countries reduce tariffs more than similar schemes offered by other trading powers, including the USA. 

Tariffs aren’t the only form of trade barriers. BBC Reality Check said last year: “There may be other barriers—such as regulations, product standards and customs documents to complete - but that also applies to goods from other countries outside Europe's single market, including the US, Japan and Canada.”

Update 20 November 2019

We've added more detail about the rules concerning African countries which have a free trade deal with the EU.

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