Trump's Tariff's Impact on Africa and the Ambiguous Role of African Agency

19 Pages Posted: 29 Jul 2018

See all articles by Dirk Kohnert

Dirk Kohnert

GIGA - Hamburg, Institute of African Affairs

Date Written: June 19, 2018


The international discussion of Trump's dispute over import tariffs for steel, aluminum and even cars is so far focused on the big global players. However, smaller African countries in particular suffer from the planned punitive tariffs, similar to the famous African proverb: 'When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers'. After years of talk on partnership for economic development (AGOA, Cotonou Agreement, EPAs, etc) Trump's tariffs mean a severe blow to participatory foreign trade and sustainable industrialization in Africa. Egypt and South Africa for example, the potentially most affected African countries, face massive job losses and earning opportunities, with all the consequences that this entails for their already fragile economy and the population in dire poverty. Trump's intervention thus joins the continued power politics of former colonial powers vis à vis Africa. Nevertheless, despite these asymmetric power relations, unfair trade relations and the desolate state of African infant industries are not necessarily due to externalities. More often than not they are home-made. African agency plays an ambiguous role in enhancing participatory trade and indigenous industrialization.

Keywords: Foreign Trade, Tarrifs, USA, Africa, South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Agency, Corruption

JEL Classification: F13, F51, F52, F6, H21, N67, N77, P16, P52, Z1

Suggested Citation

Kohnert, Dirk, Trump's Tariff's Impact on Africa and the Ambiguous Role of African Agency (June 19, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Dirk Kohnert (Contact Author)

GIGA - Hamburg, Institute of African Affairs ( email )

German Inst. of Global and Area Studies (GIGA)
Neuer Jungfernstieg 21
D-20354 Hamburg


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