AfCFTA – an uphill struggle in quest for regional trade on the continent

Picture : Bloomberg.com

The following article was published by Bloomberg and sketches the day-to-day hardship for cross border trucking through Africa. In a sense it asks the very questions and challenges which the average African asks in regard to the highly anticipated free trade area. While rules of origin and tariffs form the basis of trade across borders, together with freedom of movement of people, these will mean nothing if African people receive no benefit. As globalisation appears to falter across Europe and the West, it begs the question whether this is in fact is the solution for Africa; particularly for the reason that many believe globalisation itself is an extension of capitalism which some of the African states are at loggerheads with. Moreover, how many of these countries can forego the much need Customs revenue to sustain their economies, let alone losing political autonomy – only time will tell.

Nyoni Nsukuzimbi drives his 40-ton Freightliner for just over half a day from Johannesburg to the Beitbridge border post with Zimbabwe. At the frontier town—little more than a gas station and a KFC—he sits in a line for two to three days, in temperatures reaching 104F, waiting for his documents to be processed.

That’s only the start of a journey Nsukuzimbi makes maybe twice a month. Driving 550 miles farther north gets him to the Chirundu border post on the Zambian frontier. There, starting at a bridge across the Zambezi River, trucks snake back miles into the bush. “There’s no water, there’s no toilets, there are lions,” says the 40-year-old Zimbabwean. He leans out of the Freightliner’s cab over the hot asphalt, wearing a white T-shirt and a weary expression. “It’s terrible.”

By the time he gets his load of tiny plastic beads—the kind used in many manufacturing processes—to a factory on the outskirts of Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, he’s been on the road for as many as 10 days to traverse just 1,000 miles. Nsukuzimbi’s trials are typical of truck drivers across Africa, where border bureaucracy, corrupt officials seeking bribes, and a myriad of regulations that vary from country to country have stymied attempts to boost intra-African trade.

The continent’s leaders say they’re acting to change all that. Fifty-three of its 54 nations have signed up to join only Eritrea, which rivals North Korea in its isolation from the outside world, hasn’t. The African Union-led agreement is designed to establish the world’s biggest free-trade zone by area, encompassing a combined economy of $2.5 trillion and a market of 1.2 billion people. Agreed in May 2019, the pact is meant to take effect in July and be fully operational by 2030. “The AfCFTA,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his Oct. 7 weekly letter to the nation, “will be a game-changer, both for South Africa and the rest of the continent.”

It has to be if African economies are ever going to achieve their potential. Africa lags behind other regions in terms of internal trade, with intracontinental commerce accounting for only 15% of total trade, compared with 58% in Asia and more than 70% in Europe. As a result, supermarket shelves in cities such as Luanda, Angola, and Abidjan, Ivory Coast, are lined with goods imported from the countries that once colonized them, Portugal and France.

By lowering or eliminating cross-border tariffs on 90% of African-produced goods, the new regulations are supposed to facilitate the movement of capital and people and create a liberalized market for services. “We haven’t seen as much institutional will for a large African Union project before,” says Kobi Annan, an analyst at Songhai Advisory in Ghana. “The time frame is a little ambitious, but we will get there.”

President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana and other heads of state joined Ramaphosa in hailing the agreement, but a number of the businesspeople who are supposed to benefit from it are skeptical. “Many of these governments depend on that duty income. I don’t see how that’s ever going to disappear,” says Tertius Carstens, the chief executive officer of Pioneer Foods Group Ltd., a South African maker of fruit juices and cereal that’s being acquired by PepsiCo Inc. for about $1.7 billion. “Politically it sounds good; practically it’s going to be a nightmare to implement, and I expect resistance.”

Under the rules, small countries such as Malawi, whose central government gets 7.7% of its revenue from taxes on international trade and transactions, will forgo much-needed income, at least initially. By contrast, relatively industrialized nations like Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa will benefit from the outset. “AfCFTA will require huge trade-offs from political leaders,” says Ronak Gopaldas, a London-based director at Signal Risk, which advises companies in Africa. “They will need to think beyond short-term election cycles and sovereignty in policymaking.”

Taking those disparities into account, the AfCFTA may allow poorer countries such as Ethiopia 15 years to comply with the trade regime, whereas South Africa and other more developed nations must do so within five. To further soften the effects on weaker economies, Africa could follow the lead of the European Union, says Axel Pougin de La Maissoneuve, deputy head of the trade and private sector unit in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Development and International Cooperation. The EU adopted a redistribution model to offset potential losses by Greece, Portugal, and other countries.

There may be structural impediments to the AfCFTA’s ambitions. Iron ore, oil, and other raw materials headed for markets such as China make up about half of the continent’s exports. “African countries don’t produce the goods that are demanded by consumers and businesses in other African countries,” says Trudi Hartzenberg, executive director of the Tralac Trade Law Center in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Trust and tension over illicit activity are also obstacles. Beginning in August, Nigeria shut its land borders to halt a surge in the smuggling of rice and other foodstuffs. In September, South Africa drew continentwide opprobrium after a recurrence of the anti-immigrant riots that have periodically rocked the nation. This could hinder the AfCFTA’s provisions for the free movement of people.

Considering all of these roadblocks, a skeptic would be forgiven for giving the AfCFTA little chance of success. And yet there are already at least eight trade communities up and running on the continent. While these are mostly regional groupings, some countries belong to more than one bloc, creating overlap. The AfCFTA won’t immediately replace these regional blocs; rather, it’s designed to harmonize standards and rules, easing trade between them, and to eventually consolidate the smaller associations under the continent­wide agreement.

The benefits of the comprehensive agreement are plain to see. It could, for example, limit the sort of unilateral stumbling blocks Pioneer Foods’ Carstens had to deal with in 2019: Zimbabwe insisted that all duties be paid in U.S. dollars; Ghana and Kenya demanded that shippers purchase special stickers from government officials to affix to all packaging to prevent smuggling.

The African Export-Import Bank estimates intra-African trade could increase by 52% during the first year after the pact is implemented and more than double during the first decade. The AfCFTA represents a “new pan-Africanism” and is “a pragmatic realization” that African countries need to unite to achieve better deals with trading partners, says Carlos Lopes, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and one of the architects of the agreement.

From his closer-to-the-ground vantage point, Olisaemeka Anieze also sees possible benefits. He’s relocating from South Africa, where he sold secondhand clothes, to his home country of Nigeria, where he wants to farm fish and possibly export them to neighboring countries. “God willing,” he says, “if the free-trade agreement comes through, Africa can hold its own.”

In the meantime, there are those roads. About 80% of African trade travels over them, according to Tralac. The World Bank estimates the poor state of highways and other infrastructure cuts productivity by as much as 40%.

If the AfCFTA can trim the red tape, at least driving the roads will be more bearable, says David Myende, 38, a South African trucker resting after crossing the border post into South Africa on the way back from delivering a load to the Zambian mining town of Ndola. “The trip is short, the borders are long,” he says. “They’re really long when you’re laden, and customs officers can keep you waiting up to four or five days to clear your goods.” 

Source: article by Anthony Sguazzin, Prinesha Naidoo and Brian Latham, Bloomberg, 30 January 2020

Port of Gauteng development

Kenya – Single Window costs to impact on traders

Importers and exporters will have to pay to use the Single Window System, Kenya Trade Network Agency(KenTrade) has said.

The agency dismissed concerns that it will increase the cost of doing business.

This comes as it moves to upgrade its system which provides the sole trading platform for lodging entries and accessing trade approvals, mainly by government agencies.

Companies will now have to pay Sh5,000 [ZAR722] annually as registration to the Single Window System. Application for Unique Consignment Reference (UCR) number in the system costs Sh750 [ZAR108] per UCR.

Arrival notification for any the impending arrival notice of a consignment will cost Sh7,500 [ZAR1,080] per ship. 

The charges have been approved by the National Treasury and Planning, following a legal notice issued on December 24 which became effective this month.

This is to support the cash-strapped government agency’s operations after Treasury cut its budget by more than a half.

KenTrade CEO Amos Wangora said the  charge are informed by low funding by the exchequer,which is threatening sustainability of the Single Window Services.

“The agency has over the years relied on the exchequer for funding to run its operations as well as maintain the system, this funding has not been sufficient and has been declining over the years,” Wangora said.

The Single Window System was rolled out in 2013, providing a single platform to process import and export cargo documentation.

It currently serves 12,000 users and processes close to 800,000 transactions annually.

The system brings together 35 permits, licenses and certificates from various government issuing agencies whose cargo clearance documentations have been interfaced with the  KenTrade system.

It is also linked to financial institutions (banks, mobile payment solutions) through Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) iTax System and the governments eCitizen platforms.

Source: article published in The Star, Kenya, 24 January 2020

AU – Online tool to remove Trade Barriers in Africa goes live

An online platform developed by UNCTAD and the African Union to help remove non-tariff barriers to trade in Africa became operational on 13 January.

Traders and businesses moving goods across the continent can now instantly report the challenges they encounter, such as quotas, excessive import documents or unjustified packaging requirements.

The tool, tradebarriers.africa, will help African governments monitor and eliminate such barriers, which slow the movement of goods and cost importers and exporters in the region billions annually.

An UNCTAD report shows that African countries could gain US$20 billion each year by tackling such barriers at the continental level – much more than the $3.6 billion they could pick up by eliminating tariffs.

“Non-tariff barriers are the main obstacles to trade between African countries,” said Pamela Coke-Hamilton, director of UNCTAD’s trade division.

“That’s why the success of the African Continental Free Trade Area depends in part on how well governments can track and remove them,” she said, referring to the agreement signed by African governments to create a single, continent-wide market for goods and services.

The AfCFTA, which entered into force in May 2019, is expected to boost intra-African trade, which at 16% is low compared to other regional blocs. For example, 68% of the European Union’s trade take place among EU nations. For the Asian region, the share is 60%.

The agreement requires member countries to remove tariffs on 90% of goods. But negotiators realized that non-tariff barriers must also be addressed and called for a reporting, monitoring and elimination mechanism.

The online platform built by UNCTAD and the African Union is a direct response to that demand.

Hands-on training

Complaints logged on the platform will be monitored by government officials in each nation and a special coordination unit that’s housed in the AfCFTA secretariat.

The unit will be responsible for verifying a complaint. Once verified, officials in the countries concerned will be tasked with addressing the issue within set timelines prescribed by the AfCFTA agreement.

Hands-on training

UNCTAD and the African Union trained 60 public officials and business representatives from across Africa on how to use the tool in December 2019 in Nairobi, Kenya.

They practiced logging and responding to complaints, in addition to learning more about non-tariff barriers and their effects on trade and business opportunities.

“The AfCFTA non-tariff barriers mechanism is a transparent tool that will help small businesses reach African markets,” said Ndah Ali Abu, a senior official at Nigeria’s trade ministry, who will manage complaints concerning Africa’s largest economy.

UNCTAD and the African Union first presented tradebarriers.africa in July 2019 during the launch of the AfCFTA’s operational phase at the 12th African Union Extraordinary Summit in Niamey, Niger.

Following the official presentation, they conducted multiple simulation exercises with business and government representatives to identify any possible operational challenges.

Lost in translation

One of the challenges was linguistic. Africa is home to more than 1,000 languages. So the person who logs a complaint may speak a different language from the official in charge of dealing with the issue.

Such would be the case, for example, if an English-speaking truck driver from Ghana logged a complaint about the number of import documents required to deliver Ghanaian cocoa to importers in Togo – a complaint that would be sent to French-speaking Togolese officials.

“For the online tool to be effective, communication must be instantaneous,” said Christian Knebel, an UNCTAD economist working on the project.

The solution, he said, was to add a plug-in to the online platform that automatically translates between Arabic, English, French, Portuguese and Swahili – languages that are widely spoken across the continent. More languages are being added.

UNCTAD’s work on the AfCFTA non-tariff barriers mechanism is funded by the German government.

Source: UNCTAG.ORG, 17 January 2020

SA Customs launches AEO Programme

Customs stakeholders with members of the SARS Preferred Trader team 

The stakeholders – from various business associations and Customs umbrella bodies – were very positive after the engagement and were open to form part of an AEO Working Group going forward. The idea is to have representatives from the public and private sectors who would discuss and examine the various issues related to the design and roll-out of the future AEO programme.

An engagement with various key Customs stakeholders was held on 25 September to share Customs’ plans to introduce an Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) programme in South Africa.

The AEO programme follows in the footsteps of Customs’ Preferred Trader programme which offers various benefits to compliant Customs clients. The SARS’ Preferred Trader programme, which was officially launched in May 2017, currently has 105 accredited clients who have been awarded Preferred Trader status. 

The AEO programme – based on the World Customs Organisation’s SAFE Framework of Standards – requires an extra level of safety and security compliance from traders and offers additional benefits, compared to the Preferred Trader programme. It is also open to the entire Customs value-chain, as opposed to only local importers and exporters.

SARS Customs intends to pilot the AEO programme in South Africa before the end of 2019. Clients in the motor vehicle manufacturing industry – representing big businesses have been earmarked to participate in the pilot, as well as SMMEs in the Clothing and Textile Industry. SARS is also in the planning stage of engagements with its major trading partners within BRICS and the EU for the purpose of establishing Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) for its AEO Programme and intends to commence engagements within Africa as well.

At the recent stakeholder engagement session, Customs and Excise Group Executive, Rae Vivier, indicated that the AEO programme was being designed for Customs to partner with the private and public sector to improve voluntary compliance and trade facilitation in the country. She mentioned a few key points that SARS was looking at when it came to AEO, including Mutual Recognition Agreements with SACU/SADC trading partners, close cooperation with Other Government Agencies (OGAs) in South Africa to ensure the programme is recognised by all government departments, exploring modern technology such as block chain and augmenting AEO benefits in order to design a programme that would be beneficial for trade. 

She also mentioned that C&E Trade Services would soon be sending a survey to Customs traders to find out what clients’ requirements are, from a trade facilitation point of view. “We need to collaborate with each other to ensure we design something for the future,” she said. 

Source: South African Revenue Service

‘Flying out of Africa’, an essay on China -Africa relations

cina-africa-focac

The following article featured in BusinessLive (eEdition) on 25 July 2019. It is authored by John Grobler. The article was compiled with the financial support of Journalismfund.eu’s Money Trail grant programme. 

Chinese ‘lying money’, or fei qian, is an ancient form of value exchange. But its modern incarnation is blamed for stripping Africa of its resources.

The secret of Chinese commercial success in Africa, as suggested by an 18-month investigation into the drugs-for-abalone and rosewood trade and a major Namibian tax fraud case, is an ancient system that not only allows African countries to be robbed of taxes, but also plays a part in financing the global $270bn-a-year wildlife contraband trade.

Fei qian, or “flying money”, dates back about 1,200 years, to the Tang Dynasty in China. In its simplest modern incarnation, it is a low-cost and trusted method of remitting money, much like the Islamic hawala system. For example, a person who wants to send funds to a recipient in Africa will pay a fei qian broker in China. For a commission, the broker will arrange that a counterpart in Africa pays the recipient, again for a commission. The two fei qian brokers later settle their account through, for example, the transfer of commodities of equivalent value — but also sometimes through less salubrious methods such as transfer mispricing or invoice manipulation.

In practice, the system relies on the systematic underinvoicing of Chinese imports into Africa and a seamless chain of payments system in which accounts are settled through the transfer of high-end — and often illicit — goods such as abalone, rosewood, rhino horn and ivory. In brief: goods are undervalued on their import documentation; they are then sold for cash; and that undeclared cash is subsequently channelled into high-end commodities that are remitted to China to balance the fei qian books.

“The trick behind fei qian is that the money never actually leaves China,” says a former Singaporean finance expert, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It’s just the commodities that get moved around” as part of a longer payment chain among the Chinese diaspora.

Unlike barter trade, fei qian is not a straight swap; it is an exchange in stored value that leaves no paper trail, except in the books of the fei qian operators themselves. What makes the system even more impenetrable, the investigation has found, is that these operators mostly seem to be older, well-established women working in a closed network of mutually trusted contacts.

This nexus, and lack of paper trail, means fei qian is largely invisible. But it occasionally appears as a gaping hole in a country’s balance of payments account with China – as Namibia has discovered in an ongoing import-tax fraud investigation.

Jack Huang, a business associate of President Hage Geingob, and Laurentius Julius, a former Walvis Bay customs official and now a customs clearing agent, are among eight suspects facing 3,215 charges of fraud and money laundering in the Windhoek high court. Continue reading →

Singapore seizes tusks from 300 elephants in ivory haul worth $12.9 million

Authorities in Singapore have stopped a shipment of almost 9 tonnes (9.9 US tons) of ivory, the largest seizure of its kind in the nation’s history. The 8.8-tonne (9.7-US ton) haul was passing through Singapore on its way from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Vietnam, according to a joint statement from the Singapore Customs, Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and the National Parks Board released Tuesday.

There were also 11.9 tonnes (13.1 US tons) of pangolin scales among the illicit cargo, the third such shipment to be intercepted in Singapore this year.Three containers said to contain timber were inspected as they passed through Singapore on July 21, revealing the huge illegal cache.

Authorities say the ivory, with tusks from nearly 300 elephants, is worth $12.9 million; the pangolin scales, estimated to have been taken from around 2,000 Giant Ground Pangolins, would fetch around $35.7 million.

Pangolins are solitary animals that have an armor of scales, which are coveted for “cultural and ethno-medicinal purposes,” according to the statement. They are also hunted for their meat.

The seizure takes the total weight of pangolin scales stopped in Singapore to 37.5 tonnes (41.3 US tons) in 2019 alone. Singapore previously seized 177 kilograms (390 pounds) of ivory in April.

In Africa, poachers kill tens of thousands of elephants a year for their tusks. Much of the demand for elephant tusks comes from China, where ivory is still seen by some as a symbol of luxury and wealth. 

“Around 55 African elephants are killed for their ivory a day, their tusks turned into carvings and trinkets,” Tanya Steele, chief executive at World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement.

Source: CNN, Jack Guy, 24 July 2019

Vietnam seizes 125-kilogram haul of trafficked rhino horn encased in plaster

Fifty-five pieces of rhino horn were found hidden inside shipments of plaster at Hanoi International Airport, Vietnam’s state media reported Saturday.

Customs officers broke open plaster molds from 14 shipments to uncover the illegally trafficked horns, which weighed 125 kilograms (275 pounds) in total, according to the Vietnam News Agency.

Vietnam has the world’s largest market for illegal rhino horn, according to the World Wildlife Fund. A single horn can fetch $100,000 in Asian countries such as China and Vietnam, where buyers believe it can cure health problems from hangovers to cancer, and use it as a lifestyle drug. The global market is thought to be worth about $500 million.

The seizure in the Vietnamese capital came after Hanoi police arrested a man accused of running a wildlife trafficking ring on July 23.

That arrest followed the discovery of seven frozen tigers in a car parked in the basement of a Hanoi skyscraper.

Source: CNN, Helen Reagan and Angus Watson, 29 July 2019

WCO News – June 2019

Ivory – Vietnam remains a threat to Elephants

Exposing the Hydra - IvoryDespite being the focus of numerous investigations and exposés regarding the country’s role in the international illegal wildlife trade, Vietnam continues to be a primary hub for ivory trafficking.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has released a report Exposing the Hydra: The growing role of Vietnamese syndicates in ivory trafficking documenting the findings of a two-year undercover investigation. (Download the full report at this hyperlink).

Investigators successfully infiltrated several ivory trafficking syndicates operating in Mozambique, South Africa, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, building a detailed picture of how these criminal organizations are structured, how they cooperate with one another and how they also traffic other endangered species such as rhinos and pangolins.

In contrast to China, which closed its domestic legal ivory market in January and stepped up enforcement against ivory trafficking, the Government of Vietnam has not demonstrated serious commitment to tackling wildlife crime, says the organization. Instead, the past decade has seen Vietnam serve as a prominent transit route for large ivory shipments to China as well as overseeing a growing carving industry and one of the world’s biggest markets for ivory sales.

The report states that since 2009, 56 tons of ivory have been seized in Vietnam and a further 20 tons linked to Vietnam seized in other countries. This is equivalent to ivory sourced from approximately 11,414 elephants.

EIA estimates that since 2015 the ivory traffickers identified during the course of their investigation have been linked to seizures totalling 6.3 tons of ivory and 299 kilograms of rhino horn, including the recent record seizure of 50 rhino horns in Malaysia in August 2018. Between January 2016 and November 2017 there were at least 22 successful shipments of ivory from Africa, with an estimated weight of 19 tons and potential revenue of $14 million.

Source: EIA International and Maritime Executive, 16 September 2018

SA Documentary on Rhino Poaching wins International Award

STROOP – Journey into the Rhino Horn War, is getting a lot of attention all the way around the world at the moment and its clear to see why!

The film tells the shocking and touching story of the ongoing poaching of the rhinos and the trade in its coveted horn. Four years in the making, this labour of love saw de Bod and director Susan Scott sell their houses, leave their jobs and move in with their mothers in order to document what is happening in the fight to save the rhino from extinction.

The locally made documentary film, has just been awarded the 2018 Green Tenacity Award by the judges of the Eighth Annual San Francisco Green Film Festival, coming ahead of the film’s world premiere at the festival which will run from Thursday September 6 through to Friday, September 14. STROOP was one of 26 final films selected out of 350 submissions and one of five to win awards – a huge credit for producer, Bonné de Bod.

It was supposed to be a 6-month project but soon turned in to a dangerous and intense expedition for which the passionate duo often found themselves in immense danger. In an exclusive first, de Bod and Scott filmed special ranger units inside the world-famous Kruger National Park and at the home of the white rhino, the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park and travelled undercover to the dangerous back rooms of wildlife traffickers and dealers in China and Vietnam.

The result is a hard-hitting – and ultimately moving – documentary that challenges and shocks viewers.

Says Bonné “We are over the moon at receiving this prestigious award and it makes all our hard work and dedication to this film that much more worthwhile. Hopefully, it also means that the recognition will create additional awareness and encourage even more people to see the film when it releases.”

According to the festival’s criteria, the Green Tenacity Award is given to filmmakers “who show great tenacity in exploring crucial environmental issues in their work.”

Made solely with crowdfunding and grants – the film shows why this hunted and targeted species deserves to live in dignity, free from exploitation by illegal traders, poachers, money men and corrupt governments.

STROOP – Journey into the Rhino Horn War will premiere in South Africa in February 2019 after its film festival run overseas.

Source: sandtonchronicle.co.za, 22 August 2018.

Massive Rhino Horn bust in Malaysia

Malaysia Rhino Horn Bust

Malaysia has made a record seizure of 50 rhino horns worth an estimated $12 million at Kuala Lumpur airport as they were being flown to Vietnam, authorities said Monday.

Customs officials found the parts in cardboard boxes on August 13 in the cargo terminal of the capital’s airport, said Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim, head of Malaysia’s wildlife department.

The 50 rhino horns weighed 116 kilogrammes (256 pounds) and are worth about 50 million ringgit ($12 million), he told AFP, adding that the seizure was “the biggest ever in (Malaysia’s) history in terms of the number of horns and value”.

Vietnam is a hot market for rhino horn, which is believed to have medicinal properties and is in high demand among the communist nation’s growing middle class.

Trade in rhino horn was banned globally in 1977 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but illegal hunters have decimated rhino populations to sate rampant demand in East Asia.

A single kilo of rhino horn can fetch tens of thousands of dollars in the region, where many falsely believe it can cure cancer.

All rhino species are under threat of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Abdul Kadir said authorities were unable to identify the origin of the animal parts. Rhino horn sent to Asia typically comes from Africa.

Officials also found a huge stash of animal bones—believed to be from tigers and leopards—in the same shipment, with an estimated value of 500,000 ringgit.

Authorities have not made any arrests over the seizures.

Elizabeth John, from wildlife trade watchdog Traffic, described the rhino horn seizure as “staggering” and urged authorities to track down the people behind the smuggling attempt.

Kuala Lumpur is a hub for cheap flights around Southeast Asia, and has become a key transit point in the smuggling of rare animal parts.

Source: AFP, 20 August 2018

The human cost of Africa’s illegal logging industry

Logging in Africa

Tuesday Reitano, Deputy Director, Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime and Riana Raymonde Randrianarisoa, ENACT consultant and independent journalist have published the following article concerning illicit logging in Africa –

Across the continent, illicit logging undermines peace and security and attracts exploitation. From the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Gambia to Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar and Namibia, recent ENACT research has highlighted that illicit logging operations are exposing the continent’s communities to environments marred by serious labour and sexual exploitation. Young people are particularly affected.

Africa’s forestry sector is notoriously under-regulated. Leading UK think tank, Chatham House has estimated that in most forested countries in Africa, 80% to 100% of all trees felled could be done so illicitly.

This is due to a combination of factors, including highly limited state capacity for forestry governance and contestation between federal, local and traditional authorities over land ownership and usage. Limited awareness and weaknesses in law enforcement and customs also contribute to the problem, as do corruption and bureaucratic systems of issuing permits and licenses.

As a consequence, illicit interests and criminal actors have infiltrated logging supply chains across the continent, further diverting efforts for legitimate oversight. These dynamics are examined in an upcoming ENACT research paper.

Timber extraction, by its nature, is a hazardous occupation. But with illicit, unregulated and informal logging, safety risks increase – often with fatal consequences.

A TRAFFIC report examining the illicit logging industry in Madagascar, for example, estimated that three out of every 10 loggers in the industry die in workplace-related accidents. Madagascar is currently under a complete logging moratorium, so all aspects of the trade are illicit and shrouded in secrecy. A local Malagasy politician confirmed to ENACT researchers that high mortality rates at logging sites have become a major issue, because most of the wood cutters and transporters are not from local populations.

‘Bosses recruit them from other villages or other districts because it is easy to have control over them,’ explained the president of a local conservation NGO, adding that when workplace deaths occur at logging sites, timber fellers and transporters often have to bury their fallen colleagues in the forest to avoid detection.

The Namibian charcoal market, where approximately 6 000 people are employed, is characterised as ‘informal and fragmented, mired with the exploitation of workers and preventable environmental degradation.’ The subcontractors are remunerated according to the quantity of charcoal they produce. The financials are structured in a way that makes it impossible for these subcontractors to turn a profit, let alone to harvest within the law.

Charcoal workers often come from Namibia’s poorest region, Kavango, and find themselves caught in systems of debt bondage – whereby their payments can never repay the ‘debts’ they accumulate to their employer.

Landowners procure charcoal production and transport permits and provide the equipment needed to log, but then offset these costs against the worker’s production. In this region, entire families often live on site and become reliant on charcoal production. This pattern is replicated on logging sites across the continent. In many instances, foreign firms have aggressively infiltrated artisanal supply chains; capturing licenses and concessions intended for small-scale community use and forcing locals into exploitative contractual arrangements.

The illicit logging sector has also become rife with child labour, which can be viewed as a form of human trafficking. The prospect of quick earnings in unstable economic climates often incentivises families to take children out of school during timber harvests.

Profits from the logging industry may at first seem appealing and offer a greater promise of a future than education. However, scores of young men who are recruited into log transport operations have lost limbs, faced extended hospitalisation or been fatally injured on the job. Young girls are equally at risk. Community health officers in a logging community have commented on spikes in pregnancy rates and sexually transmitted infections during logging season, along with widespread sexual abuse.

ENACT research indicates that that sex work is pervasive across informal and illicit timber sites across the continent, as it is in other informal and under- or unregulated industries.  Loggers in Guinea-Bissau, Senegal and the Gambia have confirmed allegations that under-age girls from as far away as Nigeria are often forcibly trafficked to logging sites in these regions for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

Trafficking groups provide false identification, claiming that the girls are local residents and legal adults. If police or law enforcement unit asks about the girls, traffickers may attempt to evade law enforcement action by claiming that the girls are consenting adults. Our research in logging sites, however, suggests a very different reality. Girls are trafficked against their will, under false pretences, and are held in situations where they are sexually exploited and brutally abused.

While much has been written about the negative impact of illicit logging, the focus is usually on the environmental damage and financial losses caused by the increasingly criminal practice. The human cost – in terms of the degradation of human rights, quality of living and prospects for communities living and working in and around illegal logging sites – is often overlooked. Yet the exploitation and abuse on Africa’s youth may have long-lasting negative consequences for the continent’s development.

Initiatives to promote Africa’s forestry sector, which is frequently highlighted as a potential engine for economic growth, must go beyond simply maximising trade. They must also guarantee safe, viable and sustainable livelihoods for those employed in the sector.

Source: ENACT, 10 July 2018., by T.Reitano and R.Raymonde Randrianarisoa

Nigerian Customs – New IT System flounders

Tin Can Island Nigeria

Nigerian importers operating in all ports in Lagos are facing a tough time in clearing their consignments via the new Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) clearing platform, created to facilitate trade.

The platform

The new IT platform introduced to aid smooth clearance of cargo at the various port terminals has been given the Service sleepless nights before it was further wrecked by windstorm few days ago.

The platform, called Nigeria Customs Integrated System (NCIS)II is an improvement on  earlier automation processes such as Automate System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA), ASYCUDA 2.3, ASYCUDA 2.7,ASYCUDA ++, and NICIS I, which is a software specially created to enhance seamless cargo clearance.

Under ASYCUDA, agents could only make five declarations in one hour, but under the NICIS II, they can make up to 18 declarations within an hour.

Also, under NICIS I, customs agents could view what other control agencies such as National Agency For Food And Drug Administration And Control (NAFDAC), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) are doing with their declarations. Similarly, they could actually interact with these agencies under NICIS II.

The new software had earlier been launched at Lilypond Terminal, Port and Terminal Multi-services Limited (PTML) and Tin Can Customs Commands.

Disruption

However its failure has affected cargo clearance at the ports in Lagos, Tin Can Island, and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal (KLT) twice this month during a heavy downpour.

The disruption was more pronounced at Lagos Port, which handles the largest imports just two weeks when it migrated to the new platform after its trial at Lilypond, PTML and Tin Can commands.

Challenges

Speaking on the challenges, the Assistant Comptroller of Customs in charge of Customs Processing Centre (CPC), Apapa command, Yahaya Muktar highlighted some of the challenges the command had faced since the NCIS II took off two weeks ago, namely –

  • that the migration from ASYCUDA system to NCIS II platform had caused a little disruption in revenue generation, however he said that the command had caught up on what was initially lost to the mixed up; and
  • that the recent windstorm also contributed to the teething problems experienced at the command.

He explained that the service had not been able to access any work because of the server failure.

For the first week, there was no revenue collected. In the second week, when NCS got acclimatised to it, NCS collected N4.3 billon in a day which has now made up for the three days where no revenue was collected.

At the moment, the Lagos Port had only one scanning machine and that this was not adequate for the backlog of pending containers to be cleared. It was also confirmed that scanners were not working in some port terminals (Tin Can).

Requests for inspection were not being triggered properly resulting inspections not being completed.

Issues are also being experienced with debit notes resulting in importers being billed twice.

Many users were reluctant about using the new IT platform in the light of all the difficulties.

The challenges experienced range from network to various hardware and software technical issues. The NCS’s technical partner, Webb Fontaine is working with the implementation team to ensure normal resumption of customs processing for trade.

Source: New Telegraph Online, original article by Bayo Akomolafe, 30 May 2018

High Tech Game Park – “Connected Conservation” reduces Rhino poaching by 96%

High Tech Game Park

Almost the size of Pretoria, this 62,000 hectare private reserve on the border with Kruger National Park has upped its game against poaching.

What was once an operation with a handful anti-poachers patrolling an electric fence and hiding in watch towers has now been turned into a 21st century fortress in the bush.

This is all thanks to a pilot project called “Connected Conservation“, a collaboration between 48 private lodge owners, the tech company Cisco, and Dimension Data, the data solutions company.

While there had been great initiatives to protect the rhino over the years, these were reactive and the number of these animals being killed were increasing at an alarming rate. By combining tech thermal imaging cameras and thumb-print scanners with things like sniffer dogs, the reserve tracks the movement of people before they get close to endangered animals.

Since it began in 2015, the upgrades have brought about a 96% reduction in rhino poaching incursions, as well as reducing illegal incursions into the reserve by 68%. Key to the success has been reducing ranger response time from 30 minutes to 7 minutes.

Source: Business Insider, original article and photo by Caboz, J, 9 May 2018.