General region overview

Africa's confirmed COVID-19 infection numbers are quickly rising, as testing increases. This includes South Africa and Egypt, which represent New Zealand's key export markets on the continent. See this dashboard by Africa's Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for live updates.

Economic impacts are expected to be significant for those countries with economies reliant on industrial commodities, particularly oil (Nigeria), as well as tourism (Egypt). The lag impact of China's COVID-19 response, given China's significance as a two-way trade partner across African markets, will also have an ongoing effect.

There are a number of other risks for the continent overall, particularly given the reliance on imported foodstuffs and medical/pharmaceutical products. Looking further out, the risk of reduced remittances from expatriate African nationals impacted by work reductions or job losses could have consequences for disposable incomes across Africa.

What can be challenging cross-border difficulties in the best of times may be exacerbated, and companies should work closely with their shipping agents to understand expectations and risk for product entering the market, particularly consignments requiring land border crossings to land-locked countries.

To date there have been no reported impacts at key ports, although with increasing quarantine measures applying to vessels and crew, this needs to be carefully watched.

For manufacturing exporters, a likely reduction in key specialised expatriate staff who have been repatriated to their home countries could have implications for technical, after-sales support or other areas. It's important for companies to review and understand the implication of these. Keeping close engagement with channel partners and distributors is critical at this time.

The ability for African countries to service high levels of debt, as well as maintaining foreign exchange availability, may have impacts for New Zealand exporters in coming weeks.

Resources for Africa

Export support
Last updated: 22 Apr 2020
Podcast: A closer look at South Africa, 23 April

Haylon Smith, New Zealand's Trade Commissioner for Africa, interviews Dionne Kerr from Siyakha Consulting - a market entry...

Watch now
Export support
Last updated: 15 Apr 2020
Podcast: A closer look at Nigeria, 16 April

Haylon Smith, New Zealand's Trade Commissioner for Africa, talks to Naijalink, managing director and NZTE Beachhead Advisor, Thessa Bagu...

Watch now


Egypt is so far faring well at the early stage of the COVID-19 crisis, with a doubling of infections approximately every 13 days.

This is on the back of a strong stimulus package from the Egyptian Government (US$1.3 billion) and swift implementation of curfews and halting flights to slow the spread of the outbreak.

However, a slowdown in international trade will impact revenues from Suez Canal, and a decline in tourism (which employs 10 percent of the Egyptian population) will also have a marked impact on the economy.

Economy and trade

The World Bank announced in a press release on 17 May that it would provide US$50 million in financial support to Egypt as part of its new Fast Track COVID-19 Facility. The project aims to strengthen the prevention, detection and response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Egypt.

The Egyptian Pound (EGP) has held relatively steady throughout the crisis, ranging from a low of EGP 15.54 / USD 1.00 to a high of EGP15.83 / USD 1.00 in the past 3 months, and has in fact risen 2% against the USD across the year to date.

Egypt's foreign currency reserves took a USD 5.4 billion hit in March, the first dip in 14 months, to USD 40.1 billion. International financial institutions are confident that Egypt can maintain healthy reserves, and and on 11 May the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved Egypt's request for US$2.7 billion in financial aid to address the urgent balance of payments crisis stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Economic pressure will come from an inevitable drop in revenues from the collapse in tourism, remittances from Egyptians abroad particularly in the Gulf countries, and debt repayments.

Government response

Egypt has introduced stricter public health measures during the Eid al-Fitr holiday period from 24-29 May. These include a 5:00pm to 6:00am curfew and closure of all shops, malls and restaurants. To reduce the number of people travelling during the holiday period, all public transport is also suspended over these dates. From 30 May the country will revert to a shorter 8:00pm to 6:00am curfew for a period of at least two weeks.

The Egyptian Cabinet is currently devising a plan to restore economic activity in three phases. The Egyptian public and private sectors, including the banking sector, will observe a full week of public holidays over the Eid period from 24 to 29 May.

From 30 May it will be mandatory in Egypt to wear face masks in all government facilities, private offices and other enclosed spaces, such as retail outlets. Egypt will increase its domestic production capacity of surgical face masks from 750,000 to 1 million pieces per week.


Egypt's suspension of international passenger flights has been extended until further notice. The Government is reportedly waiting for standard advice from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on the resumption of commercial flights. While exceptional flights from Egypt to London and Frankfurt continue, these are unpredictable.

Egypt's government has announced that it will provide US$127.3 million in aid to the state-owned flag carrier EgyptAir. The airline, which is also a member of the Star Alliance Network, halted international flights on 19 March when the country's airports were closed to prevent the spread of the virus. According to Egypt's Finance Ministry, the government will support EgyptAir until it returns to 80% of its 2019 operations.

The border effectively remains closed. All scheduled/regular international passenger flights are suspended until further notice, most likely re-opening when other pre-cautionary measures are lifted on 23 May. EgyptAir has reportedly begun selling flights from 16 May but has noted this is entirely dependent on the Government lifting the flight suspension. Cargo flights continue, and in some cases have increased (e.g. Emirates has been sending in daily flights from Dubai for the past week).

Supply chain, logistics and freight

Egyptian ports continue to operate at full capacity, with the main port at Alexandria continuing 24/7 operations. Only slight delays at the border have been reported as a result of public health measures, but these should ease in particular for food importers as the National Food Safety Authority will reduce its rate of inspection on certain shipments. Egypt has also temporarily removed the need for consular authentication/verification of export documents by Egyptian Embassies abroad.

Sector insights: food imports

The Egyptian Government is importing higher volumes of food stocks that usual, in a bid to stave off fears of food insecurity. This is particularly the case for wheat and other grains (Egypt is the world's largest wheat importer), but there are also signs it may be easing current restrictions on meat imports from Brazil. Egypt is aiming to have 6-8 months of strategic reserves of wheat, rice and vegetable oil in place.


Ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, Algeria's government has taken measures to ease its COVID-19 restrictions after an earlier lockdown, and has allowed several businesses to reopen. These steps were taken in an effort to reduce the economic and social impact of the health crisis.

Shops that have been allowed to resume activities include those for materials for building and public works, appliances, fabrics, jewellery, clothing and shoes, cosmetics and perfumes, home and office furniture, pastries and hairdressers in addition to urban taxi transportation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Algeria's port has continued to operate, with officials conducting additional health checks on ship crews.

Economy and trade

The oil and gas sector are key for Algeria, so the drop in oil prices and reduced gas exports have significantly impacted the economy. This sharp drop in earnings led the Algerian government to announce on 1 May that the state budget would be reduced by 50% in 2020.

Sector insights: food imports

Algeria's food import bill witnessed a 3.5% decrease in the first two months of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019 – from US$1.34 billion to US$1.29 billion, according to the General Directorate of Algerian Customs (DGD). The drop has been attributed to reduced imports of cereals and vegetables amongst other goods. In January and February 2020, however, the imports of some other products increased compared to the same period in 2019, including dairy products (up 4.49% to US$260 million) and animal products (up 40.95%, to US$36 million).

The President of APOCE, an Algerian consumer protection agency, stated on 24 April that based on a recent survey, 52% of Algerian households have seen their food expenses increase since the start of the lockdown. The change in prices were described by APOCE as "cyclical" and "fluctuating". The survey also showed a purchasing surge at the start of the lockdown, due to fear of food shortages. Prices for products in various regions remained similar, with local inflation rates varying between 10%-20% and affecting some products more than others according to the same survey.


Nigeria is likely to be hit hard by the global oil price decline and is dealing with a significant excess of supply. This will hit government finances substantially.

Meanwhile SMEs are facing the prospect of managing this with the very high lending rates seen in Nigeria (between 20 and 26 percent), with many commentators calling for government intervention to support businesses through the crisis.

Nigerian President Buhari has announced moratoriums on loan repayments for federal government loans issued by the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and the Nigeria Export-Import Bank.

Public administration offices and banks reopened on the morning of 5 May. In the administrative capital, Abuja, traffic was very dense, especially in front of most ministries and large public administrations. It was mainly white collar workers who returned to work for this first test day in Abuja. But the big buzz was mainly around the banks. In fact, many people took advantage of this partial lifting of confinement in the capital to deposit checks or make bank transfers.

For residents of Lagos, which is Nigeria's biggest city and one of the largest in Africa, the price of food has increased by up to 50% in some instances. Overall, Nigeria's informal sector has been badly affected, and locals have questioned the lockdown's effectiveness.

A key consideration for New Zealand exporters in coming weeks will be the impact on domestic supply chains for commodity and food product transport from Nigeria's main economic hubs to rural and inland areas, and the challenges any possible lockdown could have.

South Africa

While no formal announcement has been made yet, there is talk around moving South Africa from lockdown level 4 to level 3, with some analysts predicting this may happen as early as this week. Police Minister Bheki Cele confirmed that government was in talks regarding a possible downgrade but is awaiting advice from experts.

To date, South Africa has taken significant steps to control COVID-19, which will have ramifications for the economy. Currently South Africans have been allowed to return from work since 1 May in essential service sectors, with masks compulsory in public areas and a curfew in place from 8:00pm to 5:00am.

The economy is in for a challenging period. Already low GDP growth rates are likely to enter negative territory quickly, which will result in a contraction for the first time in 11 years. Moody's has cut the country's debt rating to junk status. The South African government has also announced it will recreate the heavily indebted South African Airways (SAA), which is in significant financial peril.

The South African rand has also dropped heavily against the US dollar, reaching its lowest rate in history. The New Zealand dollar has also strengthened to over 11:1 against the rand, which will have a negative impact for New Zealand exporters.

Positively, many commentators are pleased with the speed and decisiveness of the South African response, which will hopefully save the country from the worst of possible fallout.

On Tuesday 21 April, Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 500R billion (NZ$44 billion) support package, focused on unemployment and public services.

Additional resources

Below you can find information and contact details for other New Zealand government and international agencies regarding their response to COVID-19.

New Zealand Government agencies
COVID-19 helpline for businesses
New Zealand Customs
Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)
New Zealand Export Credit (NZEC)
MFAT Export Helpline
MFAT Safetravel
Callaghan Innovation
Ministry of Health
WorkSafe New Zealand

Global agencies

World Health Organization (WHO)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Contact NZTE

We're available to talk to you about any issues your export business is facing due to COVID-19.

For existing NZTE customers, please contact your New Zealand-based Customer Manager.

If you're unsure who to contact or haven't worked with us before, you can call NZTE on 0800 555 888 or email below and one of our Customer Advisors will help you.