At least two articles have surfaced within the last week calling for greater urgency towards the development of free trade areas in Africa. How much time, money and effort seem to be expended in futile trade discussions that – to the man in the street – are meaningless. One such article, appearing in the Freight & Trade Weekly (FTW) relates to a speech delivered by the South African Transport Minister imploring SADC members to fast-track an integrated border management framework to enable ‘free flow’ of trade in the region. Before pressurizing foreign countries to embrace such change it should at least be properly considered at home. For more than 15 years, South Africa has failed to implement any meaningful integrated border management of its own. Forget about the so-called economic protectionism amongst individual African countries. We have – on our own soil –an inter-departmental ‘protectionism’ which cares little for free flow of legitimate goods. Admittedly there are moves to ‘integrate’ certain frontline functions such as customs border control and immigration. This, however, still does not mitigate interference from other government agencies in tampering with ‘legitimate trade’. Each department seems hell-bent on enforcing its respective mandate regardless of consequential overlaps in activity, oblivious to the detrimental effect this has for legitimate trade. So what is ‘integrated border management’? In the context of a sovereign state it could imply one of two things:
- A cooperative inter-departmental approach where ‘individual’ government departments perform combined interventions (according to their respective legal mandate) on people, cargo and conveyances according to a structured operational procedure and workflow; or
- A Border Management Agency (being a single government entity) comprising the capacity to effect all immigration, customs and border control/security functions at ports of entry and exit.
Secondly, integrated border management at external borders can be further extended to include a streamlined import/export or entry/exit process to facilitate the movement of legitimate travellers, goods, and conveyances in a single transaction. This is described as a ‘one stop border’. A critical success factor here is the ability of two country’s border authorities to be able to co-locate with one another and affect a common clearance/passenger movement process. Theoretically these things are all easy to understand, but a whole lot more difficult to implement – more about this another time.
Therefore, before a successful SADC FTA can ever hope to materialise, the concept of proper risk-based inter-departmental control must be embedded and administered within a home country before attempting a bi- or multilateral initiative. The article “SADC must implement integrated border management” can be found on page 17, of the 28 October 2011 issue of the FTW.