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The Great Rip-Off – South Africa loses billions in export misinvoicing

Exclusive report

“This suggests that export underinvoicing is not due to underreporting of the true value of gold exports, but rather to pure smuggling of gold out of the country. In other words, virtually all gold exported by South Africa leaves the country unreported.”

This is the sensational conclusion of a very recent study undertaken by UNCTAD on the issue of trade misinvoicing – a key method for illicitly exporting capital out of a country with severe consequences for financing much needed development, reducing poverty or in the case of South Africa, dealing with debilitating mass unemployment.

The study, “Trade Misinvoicing in Primary Commodities in Developing Countries: The cases of Chile, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia (UNCTAD/SUC/2016/2),” is by Professor Lonce Ndikumana, University of Massachusetts, Amherst for UNCTAD’s Commodity division, and was released in Nairobi Kenya on 18 July.

The study provides empirical evidence on the magnitude of trade misinvoicing in the case of primary commodity exports from five natural-resource-rich developing countries: This sample comprises four resource-dependent developing countries and South Africa – a more diversified exporter of primary commodities.

Estimates of trade misinvoicing have been primarily based on bilateral trade data published in the Direction of Trade Statistics (DOTS) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), providing aggregate values of imports and exports between a country and its trading partners. However, this study breaks new ground by providing an analysis at more disaggregated sector and product levels. The analysis additionally uses data published in the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics (UN Comtrade) Database, which provides time series on imports and exports broken down by product, country and trading partner.

There are substantial levels of trade misinvoicing in all five countries covered by the study, but the patterns vary substantially across countries, products and trading partners.

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