Implementation of the TFA can be expected to reduce trade costs substantially at the national level. To understand the potential gender implications of these effects, it is important to take a sectoral perspective as a starting point. By reducing the transaction costs associated with exporting, the TFA can lead to an expansion of a country’s export sectors. In many African countries, those sectors are essentially some parts of agriculture—such as cash crops like cotton, coffee, and cocoa—and textiles and clothing. Both sectors rely on female labor, both formally and informally. An expansion of these sectors is therefore likely to be linked to a rise in the demand for female labor, and potentially even upward pressure on female wages. Of course, the degree of slack in local labor markets is an important variable that affects this linkage: if there is a large stock of un- or under-employed women who can potentially enter the labor force, the effects of sectoral expansion will be felt through increased employment rather than higher wages. Informality is another sectoral characteristic that might affect how the mechanism works on the ground: women working under informal arrangements have few protections, and are an especially vulnerable population, so improved conditions are by no means guaranteed. It will be important for labor organizations to work with these populations to ensure that national rules are respected.
Of course, the position for women in import-competing industries—which often include other agricultural sectors in Africa, such as rice in West Africa—is reversed. Increased competition from imports will be one result of improved trade facilitation. This effect could cause relevant sectors to contract, with a fall in the demand for female labor. That could translate into unemployment or lower wages.
In addition, some women are directly involved in the trading process as informal cross border traders. They typically carry small loads, but play an important role in linking areas of excess supply and excess demand across often porous borders in Africa. Informal trade accounts for more than half of total trade in some countries, according to the best estimates, and women play an important role in the generation of that figure. Implementation of the TFA will affect the incentives of traders to deal informally: improved transparency and governance, for example, will reduce the incentive, and provide encouragement to traders to deal formally. It will be important to ensure that women informal cross border traders are given access to training and information to assist them in the transition to formality when appropriate, at the same time as recognizing that informal trade is likely to persist in some areas, and indeed plays a useful role by facilitating market transactions that cumbersome procedures prevent. As a vulnerable group, women need particular attention and assistance as African countries implement the TFA.