Archives For African Union

flags2African countries are coming under strong pressure from the United States and the European Union to reverse the decision adopted by their trade ministers to implement the World Trade Organization’s trade facilitation agreement on a “provisional” basis.

At last week’s summit of African Union leaders in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, “there was unprecedented [U.S. and European Union] pressure and bulldozing to change the decision reached by the African trade ministers on April 27 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to implement the trade facilitation (TF) agreement on a provisional basis under paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration,” Ambassador Nelson Ndirangu, director for economics and external trade in the Kenyan Foreign Ministry, told IPS.

“This pressure comes only when the issues and interests of rich countries are involved but not when the concerns of the poorest countries are to be addressed,” Ambassador Ndirangu said.

“Clearly, there are double-standards,” the senior Kenyan trade official added, lamenting the pressure and arm-twisting that was applied on African countries for definitive implementation of the agreement.

The TF agreement was concluded at the WTO’s ninth ministerial conference in Bali, Indonesia, last year. It was taken out of the Doha Development Agenda as a low-hanging fruit ready for consummation. More importantly, the agreement was a payment to the United States and the European Union to return to the Doha negotiating table.

The ambitious TF agreement is aimed at harmonising customs rules and regulations as followed in the industrialised countries. It ensures unimpeded market access for companies such as Apple, General Electric, Caterpillar, Pfizer, Samsung, Sony, Ericsson, Nokia, Hyundai, Toyota and Lenovo in developing and poor countries.

Former WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy has suggested that the TF agreement would reduce tariffs by 10 percent in the poorest countries.

In return for the agreement, developing and least-developed countries were promised several best endeavour outcomes in the Bali package on agriculture and development.

They include general services (such as land rehabilitation, soil conservation and resource management, drought management and flood control), public stockholding for food security, an understanding on tariff rate quota administration, export subsidies, and phasing out of trade-distorting cotton subsidies (provided largely by the United States) in agriculture.

The non-binding developmental outcomes include preferential rules of origin for the export of industrial goods by the poorest countries, a special waiver to help services suppliers in the poorest countries, duty-free and quota-free market access for least developed countries (LDCs), and a monitoring mechanism for special and differential treatment flexibilities.

African countries were unhappy with the Bali package because they said it lacked balance and was tilted heavily in favour of the TF agreement forced by the industrialised countries on the poor nations.

The Bali outcomes, said African Union Trade Commissioner Fatima Acyl, “were not the most optimal decisions in terms of African interests … We have to reflect and learn from the lessons of Bali on how we can ensure that our interests and priorities are adequately addressed in the post-Bali negotiations.”

The African ministers in Malabo directed their negotiators to propose language on the Protocol of Amendment – the legal instrument that will bring the TF agreement into force at the WTO – that the TF agreement will be provisionally implemented and in completion of the entire Doha Round of negotiation.

African countries justify their proposal on the basis of paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration which enables WTO members to implement agreement either on a provisional or definitive basis.

The African position on the TF agreement was not acceptable to the rich countries. In a furious response, the industrialised countries adopted a belligerent approach involving threats to terminate preferential access.

The United States, for example, threatened African countries that it would terminate the preferential access provided under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) programme if they did not reverse their decision on the TF, said a senior African trade official from Southern Africa.

The WTO has also joined the wave of protests launched by the industrialised countries against the African decision for deciding to implement the TF on a provisional basis. “I am aware that there are concerns about actions on the part of some delegations [African countries] which could compromise what was negotiated in Bali last December,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said, at a meeting of the informal trade negotiations committee on June 25.

The African decision, according to Azevedo, “would not only compromise the Trade Facilitation Agreement – including the technical assistance element. All of the Bali decisions – every single one of them – would be compromised,” he said.

The United States agreed with Azevedo’s assessment of the potential danger of unravelling the TF agreement, and the European Union’s trade envoy to the WTO, Ambassador Angelos Pangratis, said that “the credibility of the negotiating function of this organisation is once again at stake” because of the African decision.

The United States and the European Union stepped up their pressure by sending security officials to Malabo to oversee the debate, said another African official. He called it an “unprecedented power game rarely witnessed at an African heads of nations meeting.”

In the face of the strong-arm tactics, several African countries such as Nigeria and Mauritius refused to join the ministerial consensus to implement the TF agreement on a provisional basis. Several other African countries subsequently retracted their support for the declaration agreed to in April.

In a nutshell, African Union leaders were forced to change their course by adopting a new decision which “reaffirms commitment to the Doha Development Agenda and to its rapid completion in accordance with its development objectives.”

The African Union “also reaffirms its commitment to all the decisions the Ministers took in Bali which are an important stepping stone towards the conclusion of the Doha Round … To this end, leaders acknowledge that the Trade Facilitation Agreement is an integral part of the process.”

Regarding capacity-building assistance to developing countries to help them implement the binding TF commitments, African Union countries still want to see up-front delivery of assistance. The new decision states that African Union leaders “reiterate in this regard that assistance and support for capacity-building should be provided as envisaged in the Trade Facilitation Agreement in a predictable manner so as to enable African economies to acquire the necessary capacity for the implementation of the agreement.”

The decision taken by the African leaders is clearly aimed at implementing the TF decision, but there is no clarity yet on how to implement the decision, said Ndirangu. “We never said we will not implement the TF agreement but we don’t know how to implement this agreement,” he added.

In an attempt to ensure that the rich countries do not walk away with their prized jewel in the Doha crown by not addressing the remaining developmental issues, several countries – South Africa, India, Uganda, Tanzania, Solomon Islands and Zimbabwe – demanded Wednesday that there has to be a clear linkage between the implementation of the TF agreement and the rest of the Doha Development Agenda on the basis of the Single Undertaking, which stipulates that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed!

More than 180 days after the Bali meeting, there is no measurable progress on the issues raised by the poor countries. But the TF agreement is on course for final implementation by the end of 2015. Source: Inter Press Service

South African Trade & Industry Minister Rob Davies

South African Trade & Industry Minister Rob Davies

South Africa has adopted a new trade policy approach aimed at looking at its own interest first, despite a drive for more regional integration to sustain Africa’s trade growth with the rest of the world. Importers of several products have been experiencing dramatic increases in tariffs from South Africa, as well as an increase in anti dumping and safeguard measures aimed at protecting South African industries.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies this week approved the increase of tariffs on frozen poultry following an application by the local poultry industry. George Geringer, a senior manager at PwC, said regional trade relations had been put on the back burner in favour of measures to protect South African manufacturing industries against cheaper imports.

“Government realised that manufacturing as a percentage of gross domestic product has declined from about 40% to about 12% in the past 20 years,” Mr Geringer said at the 16th Africa Tax and Business Symposium hosted by PwC in Mauritius.

Trade between Africa and the rest of the world has increased by more than 200% in the past 13 years, with optimism from the World Bank that Africa could be on the brink of an economic takeoff, similar to that of China and India two decades ago.

A key element for Africa to sustain the trade growth is regional integration to build economies of scale and size, in order to compete with other emerging markets – but limited resources, internal conflict and the lack of a mechanism to monitor the integration process is blocking it, says trade analyst from PwC.

South Africa has been regarded as the “champion” of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc). Sadc member countries eliminate tariffs, quotas and preferences on most goods and services traded between them. The member countries include Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The assistant manager at PwC’s international trade division, Marijke Smit, said less than 10% of African nations’ trade was with each other, compared with 70% between member states of the European Union. Benefits of regional integration include increased trade flows, reduced transaction costs, and a regulatory environment for cross-border networks to flourish. Ms Smit said an unsupportive business environment and cumbersome regulatory framework, weak productive capacity, inadequate regional infrastructure, poor institutional and human capacity, and countries’ prioritising their own interests stood in the way of integration.

Mr Geringer referred to the new action plan endorsed by leaders from the African Union in January last year. The plan will see the creation of a continental free-trade area by 2017. The enlarged free-trade area will include Sadc, the East Africa Community and the Common Market for South and East Africa (Comesa). The trade bloc will include 26 nations in three sub-regions. Source: BDLive.com

500px-Emblem_of_the_African_Union_svgThe African Union (AU) Technical Working Group on Interconnectivity has developed a ‘draft’ Strategy and Roadmap for Customs-2-Customs IT Connectivity on the continent. This strategy will effectively guide the process of the continental Interconnectivity of Computerized Customs Clearance and Information Systems in Africa. The ‘draft’ Roadmap envisages that the process of interconnectivity will take a period of 11 years with a total of four stages.

Stage 1 – by 2014, National states should have engaged one another (within their respective regions) on the matter of Customs connectivity.

Stage 2 – between 2013 and 2017, the AU has an extremely ambitious expectation that national Customs Administrations would have (at least commenced) if not completed Customs ‘connectivity’ within the various Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in Africa.

Stage 3 – between 2017 and 2020, the suggestion that Customs interconnectivity will be occurring between RECs across the African continent – North Africa: AMU; West Africa: ECOWAS and UEMOA; Central Africa: ECCAS and CEMAC; East Africa: COMESA, EAC, IGAD; and South Africa: SADC and SACU.

Stage 4 – between 2020 and 2025, consolidation of Customs IT-Connectivity across the RECs.

The ‘draft’ Strategy spells out the strategic objectives and activities at the national, regional and continental level that will need to be taken for this to be realized. The strategy also indicates the roles of all the major stake holders in the process.  This comes in the wake of several regional and bi-lateral initiatives to bridge the ‘cross-border divide’ through electronic exchange of structured customs information.

All in all an ambitious plan structured to meet the equally ambitious deadlines of the coming into being of an African Union. The real challenge in all of this lies with the Member States in being able to set aside and commit to regional and continental ambitions, over and above the already pressing and complex national agenda’s of their respective sovereign countries. In context of the African Union, the multiplicity of RECs in themselves add a layer of duplication…..is an “integrated Customs Union” in Africa going to continue to permit the existence of the respective RECs or will they be absorbed into the African Union? Member states need to begin speaking up on this issue otherwise accept being swamped by onerous commitments. No doubt the ‘international donor agencies’ wait eagerly in the wings to capitalise on Africa’s deficiencies.

THREE regional economic communities (Recs) have taken the lead as Africa seeks to remove trade barriers by 2017. The establishment of a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) was endorsed by African Union leaders at a summit in January to boost intra-Africa trade. Sadc, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) and the East African Community (EAC) have combined forces to establish a tripartite FTA by 2014.

Willie Shumba, a senior programmes officer at Sadc, told participants attending the second Africa Trade Forum in Ethiopia last week that the tripartite FTA would address the issue of overlapping membership, which had made it a challenge to implement instruments such as a common currency. “…overlapping membership was becoming a challenge in the implementation of instruments, for example, common currency. The TFTA is meant to reduce the challenges,” he said.

Countries such as Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Kenya have memberships in two regional economic communities, a situation that analysts say would affect the integration agenda in terms of negotiations and policy co-ordination. The TFTA has 26 members made up of Sadc (15), Comesa (19) and EAC (5). The triumvirate contributes over 50% to the continent’s US$1 trillion Gross Domestic Product and more than half of Africa’s population. The TFTA focuses on the removal of tariffs and non-tariff barriers such as border delays, and seeks to liberalise trade in services and facilitation of trade and investment.

It would also facilitate movement of business people, as well as develop and implement joint infrastructure programmes. There are fears the continental FTAs would open up the economies of small countries and in the end, the removal of customs duty would negatively affect smaller economies’ revenue generating measures.

Zimbabwe is using a cash budgeting system and revenue from taxes, primarily to sustain the budget in the absence of budgetary support from co-operating partners. Finance minister Tendai Biti recently slashed the budget to US$3,6 billion from US$4 billion saying the revenue from diamonds had been underperforming, among other factors.

Experts said a fund should be set up to “compensate” economies that suffer from the FTA. Shumba said the Comesa-Sadc-EAC FTA would create a single market of over 500 million people, more than half of the continent’s estimated total population. He said new markets, suppliers and welfare gains would be created as a result of competition. Tariffs and barriers in the form of delays have been blamed for dragging down intra-African trade.

Stephen Karingi, director at UN Economic Commission for Africa, told a trade forum last week that trade facilitation, on top on the removal of barriers, would see intra-African trade doubling. “The costs of reducing remaining tariffs are not as high; such costs have been overstated. We should focus on trade facilitation,” he said.

“If you take 11% of formal trade as base and remove the remaining tariff, there will be improvement to 15%. If you do well in trade facilitation on top of removing barriers, intra-African trade will double,” Karingi said. He said improving on trade information would save 1,8% of transaction costs. If member states were to apply an advance ruling on trade classification, trade costs would be reduced by up to 3,7%.He said improvement of co-ordination among border agencies reduces trade costs by up to 2,4%.Karingi called for the establishment of one-stop border posts.

Participants at the trade forum resolved that the implementation of the FTA be an inclusive process involving all stakeholders.They were unanimous that a cost-benefit analysis should be undertaken on the CFTA to facilitate the buy-in of member states and stakeholders for the initiative. Source: allAfrica.com

It’s quite amazing the number of reports featured in various african media across the continent pushing the ‘free trade’ agenda. The incumbent governments on the other hand are naturally concerned with dwindling tax collections, while at the same time increasing incidents of graft, collusion, and corruption run rampant at the border. While the following article states the obvious, unfortunately, nowhere will you find or read a practical approach which deals with increased ‘automation’ at borders and the consequential re-distribution of ‘bodies’ to other forms of gainful employment. Its jobs that will be on the line. Few governments wish to taunt their electorates – non-essential jobs are a fact of life and are destined to stay if that is what will earn votes and a further term in power. Moreover, there is no question of removing internal borders with the emphasis on costly ‘One-Stop Border’ facilities. To some extent the international donor community won’t mind this as there’s at least some profit and influence in it for them.

Poverty in Sub- Saharan Africa is a man-made phenomenon driven by internal warped policies and international trade systems. The continent cannot purport to seek to grow while it blocks the movement of goods and services through tariff regimes at the same time Tariff and non-tariff barriers contribute to inefficient delivery systems, epileptic cross-border trading and thriving of illicit/contraband goods.

This ultimately harms the local and regional economy. Delays at ports of delivery, different working hours and systems of control across the continent, unnecessary police roadblocks and poor infrastructure condemn countries to prisons of inter-regional and intra-regional trade poverty.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, removal of internal trade barriers would lead to US$25 billion per year of intra-regional exports in Africa, an increase by 15,4 percent by 2022. Making African border points crossings more trade efficient would increase intra-regional trade by 22 percent come 2020. Trade barriers in East Africa Community alone increase the cost of doing business by 20 percent to 40 percent.

Such barriers include the number of roadblocks within each country, cross- border charges for trucks and weighing of transit vehicles on several points on highways. Kenya is grappling to reduce the number of its roadblocks from 36 to five and Tanzania from 30 to 15. Sub-Saharan Africa records an average port delay of 12 days compared to seven days in Latin America and less than four days in Europe. Africa is lagging behind!

In West Africa, Ghanaian exports to Nigeria are faced with informal payments and delays as the goods transit across the country borders whether there is proper documentation. In the Great Lakes Region, an exporter is faced with 17 agencies at the border between Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo each with a separate monetary charge sheet.

A South African retail chain Shoprite reportedly pays up to US$20 000 a week on permits to sell products in Zambia. Each Shoprite truck is accompanied with 1 600 documents in order to get its export loads across a Southern African Development Community border. Tariff and non-tariff barriers simply thicken the wall that traps Africans in economic poverty.

The new African Union chair should push for urgent steps to lower barriers to trade within Africa. Border control agencies need retraining and border country governments need to integrate their processes; long truck queues waiting to cross border points should not be used as an indicator of efficiency.

If it takes a loaded truck one hour to cover 100 kilometres; a four-hour wait at the border increases the distance to destination to another 400 kilometres. Increased distance impacts on the prices of goods at the retail end hence limiting access to products to majority of Africans. Limited access translates to less freedom of choice — similar to a locked up criminal prisoner.

With modern technology, goods should be declared at point of origin and point of receipt. Border points should simply have scanners to verify the content of containers. Protectionism, tariffs and non-tariff barriers within the continent sustains African market orientation towards former colonisers.

African entrepreneurs are subjected to longer travel schedules due to constant police checks and slow border processes. To fight poverty on the continent, African people would benefit from an African Union Summit that resolves to facilitate efficiency in movement of goods and services. Efficient delivery systems on the continent will tackle challenges of food insecurity, poor health care, conflicts and further promote diversified economies arising from competitive healthy trading amongst and between African nations.

Elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade will provide an opportunity for African entrepreneurs to adequately take their rightful places as relevant players in the global trade system. It is imperative that African countries re-orient their strategies to promote productivity by reviewing tariffs that hold back entrepreneurs from accessing the continent’s market. This calls for both a competitive spirit and a sense of integrated tariff and process compromise if the continent is to haul its population from poverty. Source: The Herald (Zimbabwe)

While on the theme of African economic and trade emancipation, it is interesting to consider the detailed analysis and evaluation occurring in regard to African continental readiness for information and communication technologies. One such study is the Transformation Ready or eTransform Africa programme, a joint programme of the African Development Bank and the World Bank, in partnership with the African Union. Bear in mind that the WCO and African Development Bank recently signed a cooperation agreement to enhance the capacity of Customs administrations in Africa. 

The study (Click Here!) is a series of  case studies of certain countries. The aim of the programme as a whole, as set out in the terms of reference, is to:

  • Take stock of emerging uses of ICT across sectors and of good practices in Africa and in other continents, including how ICTs are changing business models in strategic sectors.
  • Identify key ICT applications that have had significant impact in Africa or elsewhere and that have the potential of being scaled up, both from the public and private sectors.
  • Identify binding constraints that impact ICT adoption and scaling-up of effective models, such as the need to develop a regional culture of cyber security, and measures to address these constraints, including in relation to the role of different actors and stakeholders (private, public, development community, civil society, etc).
  • Commission a series of country case studies, to formulate a guide for rolling out and scaling up key applications in Africa, in each of the focus sectors, and thereby to identify opportunities for public/private partnership, as well as identifying areas where intervention can be reduced or eliminated.
  • Develop a common framework for providing support in ICT for development to countries that brings together the operations of the two Bank Groups and their respective departments.

The terms of reference for individual sectors were as follows:

  • Within each sector, identify specific opportunities and challenges in Africa that can possibly be addressed with an increased or better use of ICT. Constraints that are hindering ICT uptake and scale-up will be examined within the context of each sector/industry, including human capacity in IT skills and sustainable business models such as for public private partnerships (PPP). Further, the appropriate role of governments in the provision of priority ICT applications and services will be examined in order to maximize private sector development;
  • Undertake a quick scan of ICT applications in the different sectors and identify a few applications that have had significant impact in Africa or elsewhere and that have the potential of being scaled up. The scan should refer to a matrix of selection criteria on which to select case study countries that are considered ripe for the creation of public/private partnerships. On this basis, specific country case studies will be chosen – two to three per sector — on a representative basis, for deep dive analysis. The selection of case studies should be made in consultation with the partners and the other consultants. A workshop should be organized by the coordinator firm at an early stage in the project to finalise this selection.
  • Analyze and understand the barriers to the greater adoption and mainstreaming of ICTs. Barriers may include, for instance, low purchasing power, illiteracy, infrastructure constraints, lack of regulation, poorly functioning mobile ecosystem, power shortages, political instability etc. Identify cases/examples on how these have been dealt with;
  • Analyze and understand the enabling factors of success, including political economy, policy, institutional, human, financial and operational factors;
  • Consider the option of developing multi-country programs or special facilities that would allow fast-tracking specific programs across countries;
  • Provide guidelines on designing appropriate and sustainable ICT components for sector projects (including building effective public and private partnerships) and on evaluating the impact of these interventions; and
  • Propose a course of action on how to include ICT in policy dialogue and planning with country counterparts on sectoral development goals and priorities. Experiences and best practices from other regions will be drawn upon to define the role of the public sector, bearing in mind that government is increasingly positioned as a lead user of ICTs as well as a regulator of the sector.
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The following article provides a disturbing – some would call it conspiracy theory – on what lies in store for the continent of Africa. Perhaps the colonial days will be viewed as mild should some of the suggested schemes materialise.

Brussels, 30, January 2012 – The African Development Bank (AfDB) and the World Customs Organization (WCO) will work together, to enhance the capacity of Customs administrations in Africa. This declaration was made today in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the signing ceremony of a comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding, on the margins of the 18th African UnionSummit. The summit, which is taking place in Ethiopia from 23-30 January, is focusing on boosting intra-African trade – an area in which Customs administrations can play a vital role in strengthening national and regional economies in Africa.

The enhanced cooperation between AfDB and the WCO will help advance the economic development of African countries by assisting Customs administrations in their reform and modernization efforts.

The partnership includes collaboration in identifying, developing and implementing Customs capacity building projects by observing internationally agreed best practices and supporting Customs cooperation and regional integration in Africa. For the full article follow this link or the WCO News feed below in the left margin.

Here’s some food for thought…

For the past few decades, emerging technologies such as biotechnology, microelectronics, information technology and communications technologies have become central to the socioeconomic development of nations. These technologies improve productivity and facilitate better living standards when they penetrate into societies. Among them, information technology (IT) has become the most dominant; IT has revolutionized almost every aspect of our lives, public and private, by connecting individuals, institutions and governments in mutually dependent ways. With its ease of adoption, this interdependence has scaled rapidly, unlike any other technology in modern history. In Africa, for example, despite decades of using electricity, no one can claim that the continent has fully adopted it. The same applies to the aerospace and biochemical industries, among others.

IT is good for developing countries — it empowers people and improves their lives. But, in many African countries, the successes afforded by IT can backfire if it becomes a too-dominant focus. Take Nigeria for example: Despite decades of crude oil exploration, it cannot claim that it has developed indigenous domain expertise in that industry. If the MNCs depart, Nigeria will cease to remain an oil-producing nation, as it lacks the local ability to explore, extract and sustain production. But in the IT industry, most Nigerian firms are well-positioned for any challenge.

The success of IT in Africa has reached a level where it is being dangerously over-emphasized. From The World Bank to The African Union, everyone is talking about IT. IT events are very common everywhere, not to mention the Google, Microsoft, and Blackberry platform-based competitions that are being endlessly unleashed as these brands jockey for position on the continent. The Nigerian government has created a new ministry to focus solely on IT and related areas. And African leaders are neglecting most non-IT technologies. Across most African universities, the only funded and active labs are the IT labs. University administrators are happy to tout how they equipped IT labs, though everything else is broken. Agricultural engineering students are more focused on IT than on learning to build next-generation farm machinery. It’s a troubling pattern, as everyone wants to be seen as IT-savvy.

While IT can be applied to any field, the way Africa is promoting it sets a dangerous precedent. In my continent, “information technology” has become synonymous with “technology” itself. If you don’t know IT, you’re not a techie. You can master diesel engines and polymer technology, but without expertise in IT, few believe that you belong in the technology sector.

So, what’s the danger? Everyone wants to be an IT guy. No one remembers that we still need food. At the University of Nairobi, I recently asked a group of agricultural science students about their plans upon graduation. Only one wanted to stay in agriculture; others are making apps for farmers. Yes, they know more about mobile operating systems and mobile payments than they do about farming! The farms are now IT labs. And while you can simulate farming on tablets, you can’t eat the virtual fruit.

Pick up a typical newspaper on the continent, and you’ll find that the technology column has been changed to an IT column. Newspapers write about Google, Blackberry, Facebook and Apple in the technology section, but non-IT companies — though they’re technology firms — are rarely reported on. Tech journalism is now IT journalism. Even the governments have confused technology policy with IT policy.

I firmly believe that IT has helped Africa, and that it has a role to play as the continent advances. But, there needs to be a balance. The continent needs techies in mining, geology, semiconductors, agriculture, chemicals, and other areas besides IT, and government must ensure that IT does not create a situation that will destroy the continent’s capacity to feed her citizens and compete in the future. Source: Harvard Business Review