Archives For COMESA

TripartiteLogoAfrica’s longstanding vision is an integrated, prosperous and united continent. This vision will come closer to reality in December when the largest integrated market covering 26 countries in eastern and southern Africa is established.

Commonly known as the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA), the integrated market will comprise the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The establishment of a single and enlarged market is expected to boost intra-regional trade and deepen regional integration through improved investment flows and enhanced competition.

In fact, this integrated arrangement will create a combined population of some 625 million people covering half of the member states of the African Union (AU) and a Gross Domestic Product of about US$1.2 trillion.

According to a statement released by COMESA, which is spearheading the implementation process as chair of the Tripartite Taskforce, the proposed Grand FTA will be launched in December during a Tripartite Summit to be held in Egypt.

This follows a series of intense consultations and negotiations that have been going on since 2008 when the three regional economic communities made a commitment to jointly work together in regional integration during their historic summit held in Kampala, Uganda.

The commitment shown by the three economic communities has now proved fruitful as the Grand FTA is within sight and becoming a reality. Source: sardc.net

Dr Richard Sezibera meets His Highness the Agha Khan at the EAC Headquarters in Arusha. (Sunday Times Rwanda)

Dr Richard Sezibera meets His Highness the Agha Khan at the EAC Headquarters in Arusha. (Sunday Times Rwanda)

Overlapping membership in several trade areas is impeding “free circulation of goods” within the East African Community-members states, a regional integration and trade expert has said.

Alfred Ombudo K’Ombudo, the Coordinator of the EAC Common Market Scorecard team, has told The News Times that belonging to other trade blocs outside the EAC makes members reluctant to remove internal borders to allow goods to move more freely.

According to K’Ombudo, a Common External Tariff (CET) is critical to ensure free circulation of goods through the application of equal customs duties. The EAC Customs Union protocol has a three-band structure of 0 per cent duty on raw materials, 10 per cent on intermediate goods and 25 per cent on for finished goods.

However, of the five partner states, Tanzania is a member of the SADC and subscribes to a different structure while Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, are members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa). On the other hand, Burundi belongs to the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).

This, according to the expert is “perforation of the bloc’s CET,” drilling a hole in the regions tariff structure as member- states trade with other countries below the agreed tariffs.

“This makes EAC countries less willing to remove internal borders because they are not sure whether goods may have come from other blocs. This is a serious structural problem that is difficult to solve because the customs union legally recognises other blocs that members belong to,” K’Ombudo noted.

Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda’s participation in Comesa and Tanzania’s membership to SADC is recognised by the EAC, but no exception is granted to Burundi for participating in the ECCAS.

Article 37 of the bloc’s Customs Union Protocol recognises other free trade obligations of partner states but it requires them to formulate a mechanism to guide relationships between the protocol and other free trade arrangements.

EAC Secretary General, Richard Sezibera, told The New Times during the launch of the Scorecard in Arusha, that there have been efforts to address the issue of overlapping membership.

“They [EAC leaders] have done two things to [try] addressing it: One is to harmonize the CET of the EAC and that of COMESA. This makes it easier for COMESA states to reduce the level of perforation,” he explained.

He added that in 2008, the heads of state decided to negotiate a free trade area between the EAC, COMESA and SADC as another way of fixing the problem.

Dr Catherine Masinde, the Head of Investment Climate, East and southern Africa at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), said: “If we were not to perforate the EAC would end up with a bigger volume of trade figures”.

She noted that since the launch of the EAC Customs Union, in 2005, the region has witnessed strong growth in intra-regional trade, rising from $1.6 billion to $3.8 billion between 2006 and 2010. Intra-EAC trade to total EAC trade grew from 7.5 per cent in 2005 to 11.5 per cent in 2011.

“This is significant growth but, I am told that this is, in fact, a drop in the ocean. That it is far from the potential of the market. I was given a figure, that $22.7 billion [in inter-regional trade] was actually lost to other regional blocs, from this region, [between 2005 and 2012] because of non-compliance with the common market protocol.” The Scorecard, Masinde hopes, will solve various EAC compliance issues as well as energize reforms to spur the bloc’s development. Source: The Sunday Times (Rwanda)

SEZ and Regional Integration in AfricaOne of the most prominent features of the global trading landscape in recent years has been the worldwide proliferation of bilateral and regional trade agreements. Africa is no exception to this pattern. Another prominent development in Africa over the last couple of decades has been the increasing use by many countries in the region of various types of special economic zones (SEZ). These zones are more and more being viewed in the region as important mechanisms for attracting foreign investment, creating jobs, boosting manufacturing production and manufactured exports and contributing to much-needed industrial and economic development.

This paper – Click here for access – does not seek to provide an evaluation of the performance of the various special economic zone programmes established in Africa in recent years, but instead seeks to explore the various issues, challenges and opportunities that arise when countries – and especially developing countries – use special economic zones while simultaneously pursuing regional integration initiatives. This is a particularly important subject in the context of the COMESA-EAC-SADC T-FTA as a large number of the countries involved are actively using special economic zones or are currently in the process of establishing zone programmes. Source: Tralac

Doing Business EAC 2013Improving customs efficiency can boost trade volumes and reduce the cost of doing business in the region, the Doing Business in the East Africa Community 2013 survey (Click hyperlink to view the report) has indicated.

The study conducted by World Bank (WB) and the International Finance Corporation showed that a one day reduction in inland travel times could lead to a 7 per cent increase in exports. The report also noted that easing access to finance, improving infrastructure and empowering the private sector are key in the region’s integration process.

“Transport efficiency and a favourable business environment have a greater marginal effect on exports as they boss access to foreign markets, especially in low income economies,” it indicated. “Improving logistical performance and facilitating trade may have a larger effect on regional trade, especially on exports, than tariff reduction.”

Also, economies with efficient business registration, fair tax policies and efficient transport have a higher entry rate of new firms and greater business density, meaning that they are essential to ensure strong firm productivity and macro-economic performance.

According to the report, lowering costs for business registration improves formal job opportunities as more new firms hire skilled workers. “This strengthens other sectors, including the education sector and legal systems,” said Chantal Umuraza, the director of Chamber of Industries. “Economies that rank high on the ease of doing business tend to combine efficient regulatory processes with strong legal institutions that protect property and investor rights,” she added.

According to the report, financial market infrastructure, including courts, creditor and insolvency laws, as well as credit and collateral registries, improves access to credit and boosts trade. It also noted that entrepreneurs in EAC face weak legal institutions and complex regulatory processes compared with global averages and those of the developed economies.

Despite instituting some reforms, the survey found that East African Community businesses still faced huge obstacles, while economies in other regions had improved business regulations. “As a result, EAC member states’ rating in this area has stagnated at around 117 over the past four years,” the report showed. According to the report, it requires only eight procedures and 20 days on average to start a business in the East African region.

EAC economies accounted for two of the 11 regulatory reforms implemented in sub-Saharan Africa to make it easier for entrepreneurs to start businesses, the survey said. Rwanda still has the most efficient process in the EAC to start a business and 8th globally out of 185 countries surveyed. It is followed by Burundi at 28th position, Tanzania at 113, Kenya at 126 and Uganda trails at 144.

In general, 3 of 5 EAC economies rank well below the regional average in all areas measured by the survey. Burundi eliminated four requirements to have company documents notarised, to register the new company with the commercial court and the department of taxation. As a result, it moved up 80 places in the global ranking on the ease of starting a business, from 108 to 28.

On the whole, the report indicated, the region’ fares better than other regional trading blocs on the continent on the ease of starting a business. It was ranked 84th, way above 104th position for the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) is at 110th position while the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) ranks 127th. Source: AllAfrica.com

COMESAUganda has become the 15th member of the Free Trade Area (“FTA”) established by COMESA. Under the membership, the tariff on Ugandan goods will be reduced to 0 percent when exported to other signees, compared to the two percent levy on goods to and from non-member states.

The COMESA FTA began in 2000, and its other member states are Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Sudan, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Uganda was a founding member of COMESA in 1994 but until now was excluded from the FTA. As the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan are Uganda’s biggest trading partners, there is speculation that they will be the next two states to be granted membership.

Sub-Saharan Africa, which includes many of the FTA’s member states, has one of the strongest growth rates in the world, and its regional growth is expected to exceed five percent this year. The opportunity for infrastructural development will continue to grow in line with this, creating a wealth of investment opportunities for banks and lenders. Analysts have identified a particular need for infrastructure in energy and oil and gas-related sectors, as well as transport. Source: Lexology.com

Workers offload imported sugar at the port of Mombasa. Comesa has already gazetted transit goods routes, which have been geo-fenced and trucks following these routes will be monitored. Photo/File  Nation Media Group

Workers offload imported sugar at the port of Mombasa. Comesa has already gazetted transit goods routes, which have been geo-fenced and trucks following these routes will be monitored. Photo/File Nation Media Group

A new online system being implemented by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) trading bloc is expected to cut down non-tariff barriers, reduce the cost of doing business and improve intra-regional trade.

The $1 million (Sh84 million) system – which is being developed by Comesa and funded by the European Union – could for instance cut transport costs by up to 40 per cent, Comesa secretary-general Sindiso Ngwenya said.

With three main modules – Transit Bonds, Risk Management and Cargo Tracking — the Comesa Virtual Trade Facilitation System (CVTFS) aims at integrating systems used by regional revenue authorities, transporters, shippers, clearing agents, ports and customs to provide real-time information and facilitate uninterrupted movement of goods across borders.

Besides tracking cargo from origin to destination, the system will facilitate management of transit bonds and capture electronic data contained in the customs seal and assign this information to customs offices at various transit points.

Comesa has already gazetted transit goods routes which have been geo-fenced and trucks following these routes will be monitored. In case seals are tampered with, owners will automatically be notified via Short Message Services (SMSs) or email. Owners who register their trucks with the system will display a ‘Comesa Transit’ plate on their vehicles.

Delays along the major transport corridors arising from lengthy procedures at weight control points and police road blocks within the region have been identified as major non-tariff barriers hindering trade.

Mr Charles Muita, a member of the team that worked on the system and who made the presentation, said they expected most of the countries where industry players do not have their own systems to quickly adopt CVTFS. “The system does not intend to replace the ones used by member countries but would integrate them to achieve a seamless flow of information and documentation,” Mr Ngwenya said during the sensitisation at the Mombasa Beach Hotel.

Truckers buy the fleet management system at Sh24,000 and pay an average of Sh2,000 management fee per month.“We are not interested in making money with the system and the initial cost of the gadget will be less than Sh12,000 and a monthly management fee of about $3 (Sh255),” explained Mr Ngwenya.

The sensitisation in Comesa member states aims at getting volunteers for a free pilot project that will run for three months starting next month. Source: Business Daily Africa.com

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

Delegates from at least 20 African Customs Administrations met in Pretoria, South Africa between 13 and 15 August to advance developments towards a common framework and approach to IT inter-connectivity and information exchange in the region. Convened by the SADC secretariat in consultation with COMESA and Trademark Southern Africa (TMSA), the three day work session focussed on uniform acceptance of the WCO‘s Globally Networked Customs (GNC) methodology, regional awareness of customs developments in the Southern and East African region, as well as joint agreement on customs data to be exchanged between the member states.

Mauritius Revenue Authority (MRA) shared its experience with delegates on the launch of its Customs Enforcement Network (CEN). Kenya Revenue Authority will soon be sharing enforcement information with its MRA counterpart. At least 22 African countries are expected to link up with the CEN network over a period of time. Customs enforcement information is the second pillar of the WCO’s GNC information exchange methodology; the first pillar being Customs information exchange. The latter provides for a holistic approach to the dissemination of common customs data derived from supply chain exchanges, for example declaration information, cargo information, and AEO information to name but a few. This information is vital for trading countries to administer advance procedures and better validate the information being provided by the trade.

Rwanda Revenue Authority introduced it’s RADDex programme which is a web-based IT solution for the exchange of cargo manifest information between participating states in the East African Community (EAC) – see related article below.

SADC and COMESA are rallying their members to participate in the initiative. At the current juncture, various member states have expressed keen interest to participate. While the regional intention is the linking of all customs administration’s electronically, initial developments envisage bi-lateral exchanges between Customs administrations which are ready to engage. The importance of the adoption of the GNC methodology is to ensure that customs connectivity and information exchange is harmonised and consistent across the Southern and East African region irrespective of whether countries are ‘early adopters’ or not.

The Freight-Intra Africa Trade Conference in Pretoria, this week, has featured several news articles in the local media, and no doubt some foreign tabloids as well. The Minister of Transport has cleared up the cause of the ills plaguing cross border and regional transport. At least we are now fully informed that [historical] design issues and operational inefficiencies at South Africa’s landborders, and Beit Bridge in particular, are the fundamental causes of under-performance in intra-Africa trade.

“In most cases, the delays at the borders are caused by operational inefficiencies, which result in the duplication of processes. This is a serious cost to the economies of the countries that conduct their trade through such border posts,” the Minister said.

One has to seriously question who advises the minister which leads to such statements, and whether or not these advisers have visited any land borders in recent months.

Now the remedy – Government has budgeted and approved R845-billion for infrastructure development over the medium-term, with a significant proportion, about R262-billion of this investment being earmarked for transport infrastructure and logistics projects. Can anyone question government’s commitment in this respect? Not really. However, the Minister was quick to point out government would resolve inefficiencies at the borders by establishing a mechanism that will bring all border entities under a single command and control structure to address the fragmentation in border operations. “The ultimate vision is to create one-stop border operations to facilitate legitimate trade and travel across the borders”.

The proliferation of border management agencies (integration of enforcement and regulatory authorities under one umbrella) – which has seen the demise of many customs administrations over the last decade – has not proven an effective vehicle to manage cross border travel and trade. It is difficult to see how facilitation procedures can co-exist under a command and control environment. What the situation does create is the opportunity to consolidate a budget for security expenditure. Various Sources: Engineering News, Business Live, Fin24.com and personal opinion.

The first round of negotiations to establish a free trade area covering 27 countries in southern and east Africa will kick off on December 8, in Nairobi. It is envisaged that the negotiations will be completed in 36 months. (Really?)

The three trade blocs involved – the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) – decided in October 2008 in Kampala to move towards a free trade agreement.

The intention is to boost intra-regional trade because the market will be much bigger, there will be more investment flows, enhanced competitiveness and the development of cross-regional infrastructure.

Industrialisation, making goods to sell instead of selling primary products, is a possible and also necessary spin-off. Competition with older established and also bigger emerging economies might be a stumbling block initially, but the huge new market may make it possible for locally manufactured goods to compete with those imported from outside the FTA.

Close to 600 million people live in the FTA with a gross domestic product of $1 trillion – suddenly we are boxing in the same weight division as China, India, Russia, Brazil, the US and the EU. Source: All Africa.com.

BriberyComment: Heard all of this before?  It could be hoped that some positive developments will materialise from more talkshops with promises to alleviate poverty and increase Africa’s slice of the international market. While the retail and telecommunications industries have made significant inroads into Africa, manufacturing remains a moot point. Does Africa have the political will to take risks? Removing internal border controls for instance are not high priority for sovereign governments. Neither for that matter is the question of the integrity of officials who man these borders. And, neither is the matter of removing one of the key contributors to cross border fraud – the “paper customs declaration”. Nonetheless, attempts are still being made to redress these ills. Recent developments within SACU indicate a genuine move towards customs-2-customs information exchange based on the ‘Customs Inter-connectivity’ concept. More on this shortly.