The World Customs Organization with the support of the European Union under the EU-WCO Rules of Origin Africa Programme has developed a quick guide to the private sector to assist with the practical implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement Annex 2 on Rules of Origin of the Protocol on Trade and its relevant appendices.
The main objectives of the AfCFTA Agreement are to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating the establishment of a Customs Union in the future.
In order to support the implementation processes of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, Regional Economic Communities (RECs) need to make informed choices about how to reap the benefits presented by the agreement, while at the same time managing the challenges that may be encountered in the course of the implementation.
Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Secretariat, stressed this Tuesday, June 7, on the occasion of the second coordination meeting of the CEOs of RECs, on the implementation of the AfCFTA held at the EAC Headquarters, in Arusha, Tanzania.
The meeting sought to take stock of the progress made since the last meeting in Accra in 2021.
The role of the continent’s eight RECs is critical especially as the latter are building blocks for the AfCFTA.
Mene said the implementation of the AfCFTA will likely influence future trade policies of the RECs.
“In this regard, effective collaboration between the RECs and the AfCFTA Secretariat is necessary to ensure that the AfCFTA outcomes are consistent with regional advancements in trade integration made thus far and the projections for the future,” Mene said.
“Therefore, the coordination meetings offer us an opportunity to listen to one another, to better understand our areas of difference, and to work together to build consensus around common positions critical to our success at creating an African Economic Community.”
African leaders mandated the AfCFTA Secretariat, the African Union Commission, and the RECs to develop a framework of collaboration to enhance complementarity, synergies, and alignment of programmes and activities to facilitate the effective implementation of the AfCFTA. The negotiation of the AfCFTA is now in phase two which covers investments, intellectual property rights, women and youth in Trade competition policy and digital trade.
It is Mene’s strong conviction that by agreeing on a workable framework which will strengthen the interdependence of RECs on the one hand, and strengthen the cooperation between RECs and the AfCFTA Secretariat on the other hand, “we will be taking steps critical to the success of the AfCFTA.”
“We have already received instructions from the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union to take all necessary steps to ensure the effective implementation of the AfCFTA, including facilitating commercially meaningful flow of goods and services under the AfCFTA preferential regime, across the continent. We were also instructed to develop a coordinated approach to the implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement, with the existing RECs as building blocks.”
Peter Mathuki, the EAC Secretary-General, noted that Africa is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, but trade in goods and services accounts for an estimated 3% of global exports and imports on average.
As noted, the share of Intra African trade remains low: on average, 13% for intra-imports and 20% for intra-exports, while ExtraAfrican trade accounts for more than 80% of the total trade. Africa’s exports to the rest of the world consist of raw materials, such as oil, gas, minerals, and agricultural commodities, with little to no value addition.
Mathuki said: “There are many reasons why intra-Africa trade is low; these include differences in trade regimes (8 AU recognised RECs), inadequacies of trade-related infrastructure (poor intermodal connectivity), trade finance and trade information.
“Other constraints are customs, administrative and technical barriers, limited productive capacity, lack of factor market integration and inadequate focus on internal market issues.”
With a market of around 1.3 billion consumers and a GDP of $ 3.4 trillion, Mathuki reiterated, AfCFTA will unlock many opportunities in the continent and redesign the architectural framework of its economic systems.
“The eight AU recognised RECs are the official pillars of the African Economic Community (AEC) set out in the Abuja Treaty establishing the AEC. The RECs play a critical role in coordinating and submitting REC tariff offers, schedules, and commitments on trade in services and are fully involved in negotiations on outstanding issues,” Mathuki said.
“Active engagement and input from the private sector and interest groups at the national and REC level are needed to shape the AfCFTA trade regime and resolve challenges ahead.”
Amb. Liberata Mulamula, Tanzania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said her country commends the initiative of establishing collaboration between the AfCFTA and RECs towards implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement.
“Tanzania as a member of EAC Customs Union has ratified the AfCFTA agreement and is also a member of SADC and EAC. In order to have a meaningful implementation of the agreement, the United Republic of Tanzania needs to align its participation in the AfCFTA to that of the RECs as its member.”
“I am confident that this framework will underpin the interface between the AfCFTA and RECs Free Trade Area and laydown actionable policy proposals that would assist in ensuring coherent, coordinated and fully responsive collaboration between the AfCFTA and RECs.”
At the invitation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat, the World Customs Organization (WCO) gave a presentation on international standards for the drafting of tools and instruments on rules of origin at a virtual workshop on the drafting of the AfCFTA Rules of Origin Handbook held on Monday 21 February 2022.
In her welcoming address, the Chairperson of the Sub-Committee on Rules of Origin expressed her profound gratitude and thanks to the AfCFTA’s partner organizations, such as the WCO and UNCTAD, as well as to the Regional Economic Communities (COMESA, EAC, ECOWAS and the SADC) which had kindly accepted the invitation to share their experience of drafting rules of origin handbooks.
She reminded those taking part that Article 8.3 of the Agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area laid down that any additional instruments, within the scope of that Agreement, deemed necessary, are to be concluded in furtherance of the objectives of the AfCFTA and will, upon adoption, form an integral part of the Agreement. In accordance with Article 13 of the Protocol on Trade in Goods, discussions among the negotiating bodies had led to the adoption of Annex 2 on Rules of Origin and of close to 88% of the tariff lines constituting Annex IV. She also emphasized that both of those legal documents on rules of origin had to be made operational through the use of the Rules of Origin Handbook.
With a view to the implementation of Annex 2 on Rules of Origin of the AfCFTA Protocol on Trade in Goods, she went on to stress that the 8th Meeting of the Council of Ministers, held on 28 January 2022, had decided that the work on drafting the AfCFTA’s Rules of Origin Handbook had to be given priority.
Accordingly, under Item 3 on the Agenda, the WCO gave a talk on the drafting of rules of origin handbooks, presenting some practical cases that explained the international standards applied in drawing up its tools. There was then a question-and-answer session in which the delegates from Customs administrations, trade and industry were able to have a fuller exchange on the subject of good practices on which the AfCFTA could draw in finalizing the drafting of the Rules of Origin Handbook.
The workshop was attended by more than 150 delegates, for whom it was an opportunity to learn more about good practices in relation to the drafting of operational handbooks on rules of origin, with a view to making proposals for improvements to the AfCFTA handbook, on the basis, too, of the experiences of the WCO, UNCTAD and the African RECs.
The workshop came before the 5th Meeting of the Sub-Committee on Rules of Origin to be held from 22 to 25 February 2022, at which the handbook in question would have to be drawn up in order to facilitate the implementation of AfCFTA rules of origin and thereby boost intra-African trade.
On 15 February 2022, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, Secretary General of the World Customs Organization (WCO), and H.E. Mr. Wamkele Mene, Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat, met at WCO Headquarters to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). This MoU aims at strengthening the organizational capacity, transparency and effectiveness of African Customs administrations in a sustainable manner through cooperation between both Organizations.
In his remarks on this occasion, Secretary General Mene explained that it had been a long road since the establishment of the AfCFTA Secretariat. Today, 41 of its 54 Member States had duly ratified Rules of Origin for 87.7% of tariff headings agreed upon, to name but one milestone. He recalled the mandate of his Secretariat and stated that Customs’ involvement is essential in order to realise the ambitions laid out in the Agreement establishing the AfCFTA. He also noted that expectations were high and that communities were eager to start trading under the Agreement. The AfCFTA Secretary General then acknowledged the WCO’s expertise and role in delivering capacity building in highly-technical areas which were key for implementing the Agreement.
After congratulating his counterpart for the work done by the AfCFTA Secretariat, Dr. Mikuriya highlighted the areas where the WCO could contribute, including customs technical matters such as the Harmonized System, Valuation and Origin, as well as automation, risk management and trade facilitation which will yield economic benefits to the African continent.
He went on to outline the WCO’s long experience in developing capacity-building materials for Customs administrations and in donor coordination to ensure the efficient delivery of training. He reaffirmed WCO’s commitment to contribute to the regional integration efforts in Africa through customs modernisation.
The negotiations to finalise the tariff schedules and rules of origin (RoO) of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) are taking place during the last two weeks of January 2022. Senior Trade Officials (STOs) and the AfCFTA Council of Ministers (COM) will then meet to confirm the results or to decide the outstanding issues. Once the State Parties have agreed on the content of these important Annexes to the AfCFTA Protocol on Trade in Goods, they must be adopted. This is the responsibility of the African Union (AU) Assembly.
Trade in goods under AfCFTA preferences can then begin among the State Parties presently trading with each other under most-favoured-nation (MFN) rates. (Non-State Parties will first have to accede to the AfCFTA Agreement in terms of Article 23 of the AfCFTA Agreement.)
Those State Parties that are members of Regional Economic Community (REC) Free Trade Areas (FTAs), Customs Unions (CUs) and other trade arrangements will continue to trade under existing preferential arrangements.
Article 19(2) AfCFTA Agreement provides that
“… State Parties that are members of other regional economic communities, regional trading arrangements and custom unions, which have attained among themselves higher levels of regional integration than under this Agreement, shall maintain such higher levels among themselves”.
Article 8(2) of the Protocol on Trade in Goods adds the following:
“… State Parties that are members of other RECs, which have attained among themselves higher levels of elimination of customs duties and trade barriers than those provided for in this Protocol, shall maintain, and where possible improve upon, those higher levels of trade liberalisation among themselves”.
However, there is also the practical requirement that the AfCFTA regime must be “customs ready”. It means that the tariff books of individual State Parties and of CUs such as the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), and presumably the East African Community (EAC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), need to be updated. AfCFTA columns will have to be added to these tariff books in order to ensure the new preferences will be enjoyed when customs officials and border control agencies clear goods under this new trade arrangement.
The updating of a tariff book normally happens through national legislative procedures such as the promulgation of a Government Gazette. Customs and other border officials can only act in terms of domestic legal instruments granting them the necessary powers. Trade agreements are not self-executing.
The importation and exportation of goods entail detail procedures involving customs clearance. Customs clearance is the procedure of procuring permission, through its customs authority, to either take goods out of its territory (export) or have goods enter its territory (import). Failure to provide the correct paperwork will mean that goods cannot clear customs and enter the market of the country of destination.
The customs authority of a country is the administrative agency responsible for collecting tariffs and for controlling the flow of goods into and out of a country. Depending on local legislation and regulations, the import or export of some goods may be restricted or forbidden, and the customs agency enforces these rules. The customs authority is different from the immigration authority, which monitors persons who leave or enter the country, checking for appropriate documentation, apprehending people wanted by international arrest warrants, and impeding the entry of others deemed dangerous to the country. A customs duty is a tariff or tax on the importation or exportation of goods.
The approach taken by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) is to improve the security of borders, without unduly hindering legitimate international trade. The WCO initiative focusses on the entire international trade supply chain, rather than restricting customs’ interest to that aspect of the international trade transaction, when goods move across a border. The basic principle underpinning its work is to create an international mechanism for Customs Administrations to gain access to relevant information relating to international trade well in advance, for the purposes of risk management and risk assessment.
The AfCFTA is a free trade agreement (FTA). This is an agreement between States that removes tariffs and other restrictions on goods which are traded between the State Parties, according to the applicable RoO. The main difference between a customs union and a free trade agreement is that even where zero (or reduced) tariffs are part of an FTA, extra bureaucracy is needed to take advantage of those tariffs. Exporting under an FTA means companies have to comply with a complex set of rules (known as preferential rules of origin) to prove that goods only come from countries who have signed up to the FTA and that such goods have been produced or manufactured in accordance with the applicable RoO. For a customs union, once the common external tariff has been paid for a product then it is in “free circulation”. Traders only have to prove the common external tariff has been paid on goods or parts they have used. This is easier to demonstrate than proving the origin of imported goods.
On 27 January 2022, representatives of the WCO, the AfCFTA Secretariat and the European Commission held a virtual meeting to review the state of play in the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The meeting focused on the trade liberalization mechanism envisaged by the AfCFTA Agreement, the management of tariff offers and a possibility of setting up a continental digital platform to handle information on applicable tariff rates covering all African countries.
In opening the meeting, Mrs. Demitta Chinwude Gyang, Head of Customs at the AfCFTA Secretariat, expressed her appreciation for the support provided by the WCO and the EU on the implementation of the Harmonized System (HS) under the EU-WCO Programme for HS in Africa (HS-Africa Programme), funded by the EU. She emphasised that the trade under the AfCFTA had already started from January 2021, and 44 tariff offers had been submitted by AfCFTA signatories already. She explained that the AfCFTA Secretariat intended to create a web-based ‘tariff book’ whereby all the necessary information on tariff offers and applicable tariff rates would be made available in a user-friendly and easily accessible manner.
The representatives of the WCO and the EU welcomed the AfCFTA initiative to set up a digital tariff platform at the continental level, recalling that electronic tariffs had been successfully implemented in some African countries in the recent past, with the support of the HS-Africa Programme. They stressed that such digital tools contributed significantly to trade facilitation efforts of Customs administrations and Regional Economic Communities by providing data that were vital for trade operators. The EU and the WCO reiterated their firm commitment to offering continued support to the AfCFTA in that regard, under the HS-Africa Programme.
In conclusion, the meeting participants agreed that the initiative should start by developing terms of reference for the implementation of the AfCFTA digital ‘tariff book’ and launching a tendering process to select a service provider that would carry out the required technical work. It was felt that this project would contribute to scaling up digital transformation of Customs, announced as the theme of the year 2022, and create a foundation for the next steps in the establishment of the Customs union on the African continent.
The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in partnership with West Blue Consulting, United Parcel Services (UPS), Trade Law Center (TRALAC) have officially launched the eTradeHubs portal, http://www.etradehubs.com.
The eTradeHubs portal is a one-stop for Trade Tools, Information & Collaboration which aims to reduce the time and cost of doing business by supporting businesses at all levels of maturity – the micro enterprise to the multinational.
The portal which was virtually launched last week Thursday has features such as a multi country Tariff and Trade Information Tool and a Duty Calculator.
A first-time trader or existing trader wishing to import raw materials or export finished goods, can search on the portal.
The Duty Calculator further provides an estimate of the customs duty, tax and levies of the destination region or country to aid in financial and logistical planning.
eTradeHubs also provides a Trade Management Tool. Equipped with accurate trade information, the trader can proceed to transact, by generating trade compliant documentation, manage compliance, workflow and costs – all on the same platform, without the need to visit multiple regulatory agencies, entities, websites and physical offices as done previously.
The portal currently provides country data on Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and the ECOWAS sub region, with more countries and sub regions to be introduced in support of the Digitise 5 million African SMES initiative.
CC, UPS, Tralac, and West Blue Consulting through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) announced a partnership to support women-led small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Africa.
The partners will offer capacity building programmes and tools, including co-developed trade and information portals called “e-Trade Hubs,” advocate for enabling public policy, and create electronic guidelines to help women entrepreneurs scale-up and digitise their businesses.
The Secretary General of ICC, Mr John W.H. Denton AO in his remarks said the economic, social, and health consequences associated with the COVID-19 pandemic had unequally impacted the lives and livelihoods of women business owners everywhere.
“We are extremely proud to partner with UPS, Tralac, and West Blue Consulting to level the playing field in Africa and provide women entrepreneurs with the required resources to digitise their businesses. Women-led businesses are the backbone of their local economies – we can’t afford to leave them behind,” he added,
The CEO and Founder of West Blue Consulting, noted that “The adoption of solutions by women in business and trade, will ensure benefits such as an increased ability for women to work from home whilst raising families; improved global market access, employment opportunities and a shift of women from the informal sector to the formal.
“The portal will provide a 24/7 collaborative space where women traders and entrepreneurs in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and of course their male peers can connect and access timely and up to date information, skills and operational tools, offered by various providers”, she added.
Ms Mintah expressed delight to partner with ICC, UPS and TRALAC to provide the needed skills training, trade information and tools via the eTradeHubs portal http://www.etradehubs.com.
President of UPS, Ms Penny Naas, the International Public Affairs & Sustainability said “Research shows that only 1 out of 5 businesses that exports is led by a woman. At UPS, we’re moving our world forward by helping women-run businesses maximize their participation in trade through public-private partnerships that provide policy recommendations and support with knowledge sharing and building skills”.
Executive Director of Tralac, Ms Trudi Hartzenberg, said the adoption of digital trade solutions for the AfCFTA would address many border management challenges that disproportionately impact women traders.