AfCFTA – Why regional support is crucial for effective implementation

Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Secretariat

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.”

Source: The New Times, 8 June 2022

WCO and AfCFTA Secretariats join forces for the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area

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.

Source: WCOOMD, 16 February 2022

When will the AfCFTA be customs-ready?

Picture: Grayomm @ Unsplash.com

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.[1]

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.[2]

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.[3]

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.

Source: Authored by Gerhard Erasmus, TRALAC, 24 Jan 2022


[1] Art 22 AfCFTA Agreement.

[2] Constitutional systems based on monism, may provide otherwise but will have other requirements to ensure that the executive branch of government respects the powers of the legislature.

[3] https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/a/6/24649.pdf

AfCFTA, EU and WCO join forces to support digital transformation of Customs work

Picture: Damien Patkowski

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.

For more details, please, contact capacity.building@wcoomd.org.

India revives Preferential Trade Agreement initiative with SACU

Discussions between Southern African Customs Union (SACU) [South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini] and India to achieve a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) have been revived with the two sides holding a virtual meeting last week to discuss various aspects of the PTA. 

The Indian side at the dialogue was led by Srikar Reddy, Joint Secretary, Department of Commerce while SACU was led by Amb. Steve Katjiuanjo, Executive Director, Ministry of Industrialization,Trade and SME Development of Namibia. 

Reddy underlined India’s historically close ties with Southern Africa and its steadfast commitment to deepen economic engagement with this region. He informed that in 2019-20, trade between India and Africa as a whole stood at $ 66.7 billion, of which the India-SACU trade was $ 10.9 billion with an immense potential to expand further. 

Amb Katjiuanjo called India as a strategic partner for SACU. Trade is currently in SACU’s favour, thus showing that the region is benefiting from access to the vast Indian market. 

Prashant Agrawal, High Commissioner of India to Namibia, said on the occasion that in these unprecedented times of Covid-19 pandemic and its economic challenges, economies of the region, including of Namibia, could vastly benefit by enhanced trade and commercial links with India’s $ 2.9 trillion economy. 

India stood fully committed and ready to support manufacturing and industry in Namibia in areas such as agriculture, irrigation, renewables, ICT, pharma and medical supplies. Both sides reviewed the progress made and discussed steps to quickly move forward on the PTA. 

India-Namibia bilateral trade during 2018-19 was $ 135.92 million with India’s exports valued at $ 82.37 million, while India’s imports stood at $ 53.55 million. Mining sector is an area of mutual interest. Namibia is rich in uranium, diamonds, copper, phosphates and other minerals. Indian technological prowess in IT, engineering, pharmaceuticals, railways and SMEs is of interest to Namibia. Bilateral cooperation in the energy and agricultural sectors also has good prospects. 

Meanwhile exports from India to South Africa include vehicles and components thereof, transport equipment, drugs and pharmaceuticals, engineering goods, footwear, dyes and intermediates, chemicals, textiles, rice, gems and jewellery, etc. Imports from South Africa to India include gold, steam coal, copper ores & concentrates, phosphoric acid, manganese ore, aluminium ingots & other minerals. India-S Africa bilateral trade was $ 10,584.5 million during 2018-19. 

Source: India Times, 19 July 2020

AfCFTA Postpones Implementation of Agreement

The Secretary-General the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Mr. Wamkele Mene, yesterday announced the postponement of the implementation of the AfCFTA agreement scheduled for July 1, 2020, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mene said: “It is obviously not possible to commence trade as we had intended on 1 July under the current circumstances.

“I think that’s the responsible thing to do. I don’t think it would be appropriate when people are dying to be focused on meeting the 1 July deadline. Instead all governments should be allowed to concentrate their efforts on fighting the pandemic and saving lives at home.”

Mene did not disclose the targeted implementation date, but there were strong speculations that the new commencement date might be January 2021. “The political commitment remains, the political will remains to integrate Africa’s market and to implement the agreement as was intended,” he said.

The AfCFTA was promoted as having the capacity to bring about $3.4 trillion intra-African trade with 1.3 billion people across Africa and constitute the largest new trading bloc since the World Trade Organisation was formed in 1994.

According to the Head, Division of International Economics Relations, Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Dr. Efem N. Ubi, the postponement of the take-off date was in order to enable African countries focus fully on surviving the threat from COVID-19.

“The focus should be on sustaining our economy and see how we can win the war against COVID-19 by managing what we have. And the most important thing for the post COVID-19 economy is for African countries to focus on the kind of education that will promote science and technology that will transit the continent from a primary producer to a manufacturing economy. The focus onward should be science, technology, agriculture and health so that Africans can produce and have things to trade among themselves,” Ubi said.

Source: This Day Live, Nigeria, 29 April 2020

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

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

SADC Border posts under the spotlight

GEC

Land borders in the SADC region are critical zones for unlocking economic development, regional value chains and trade. In this light the Global Economic Governance Africa programme is working with the Zimbabwe Trade Forum and the University of Zambia to look at two case studies on the border regions around Beitbridge and Chirundu. The borders, between South Africa and Zimbabwe, and Zimbabwe and Zambia, represent critical links in the North-South Corridor and are vital in both regional development initiatives as well as bilateral ones between the countries.

The seminar, attended by trade experts, policy makers and researchers from South Africa and the region discussed the field research findings of a study at the Beitbridge and Chirundu border posts conducted on behalf of the programme in June 2018.

The following presentation documents should be of interest to all parties concerned with inter regional trade and trade facilitation development initiatives.

It is also worthwhile to visit Tutwa Consulting’s webpage as it explains how the surveys were conducted and provides salient features in relation to each of the border posts concerned which may not necessarily be apparent in the presentation documents as such.

Source: Tutwa Consulting

WCO News – February 2018

wconews_85

This edition of WCO News features a special dossier on the theme chosen by the WCO for 2018, namely “A secure business environment for economic development”, with articles presenting initiatives and related projects that contribute to creating such an environment. The articles touch on authorized economic operators, national committees on trade facilitation, coordinated border management, performance measurement, e-commerce, data analysis, and partnerships with the private sector.

For sub-Saharan African readers, look out for the write up of the Customs systems interconnectivity and the challenges and opportunities for Customs administrations in the SACU region.

Other highlights include articles on Customs systems interconnectivity in the Southern African Customs Union, on the experience of a young Nigerian Customs officer who participated in the Strategic Management and Intellectual Property Rights Programme at Tokyo’s Aoyama Gakuin University, on how the WCO West and Central Africa region is using data to monitor Customs modernization in the region, and on the benefits that can be derived by facilitating transit procedures.

Source: WCO, February 2018

Republic of Ireland – warns UK against using border as Brexit bargaining chip

Irish flag

Following Britain’s recent utterances that it will not rule out the possibility that the EU may retain oversight of customs controls at UK borders after it leaves the bloc, the Irish government has warned UK authorities it will not be used as a “pawn” in Brexit negotiations, reports News Letter, UK.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said he does not want the issue of the Irish border to be used by the UK government as a tool to pressurise the EU for broader trade agreements.

Mr Coveney also said that sufficient progress on the future of the Irish border has not been made during Brexit talks.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire in Dublin on Tuesday Mr Coveney said: “We do not want the Irish issue, the border issue, to be used as a pawn to try to pressurise for broader trade agreements.”

He added: “Sufficient progress (on the issues facing the island of Ireland post-Brexit) hasn’t been made to date.”

He warned that in order for Brexit negotiations to move onto the next phase “measurable and real progress” is needed.

Before the meeting Mr Brokenshire insisted there was no possibility of the UK staying within a customs union post Brexit.

He said that to do so would prevent the UK from negotiating international trade deals.However, following a meeting with the Irish and British Chamber of Commerce he said there would be a period of implementation where the UK would adhere closely to the existing customs union.

“We think it is important there is an implementation period where the UK would adhere closely to the existing customs union,” said Mr Brokenshire. “But ultimately it is about the UK being able to negotiate international trade deals.

We want to harness those freedoms. If we were to remain in the customs union that would prevent us from doing so. “We are leaving EU, customs union and single market. We have set out options as to how we can achieve that frictionless trade,” he added.

However, Mr Coveney said the Irish Government believes the best way to progress “the complexity of Britain leaving the European Union is for Britain to remain very close to the single market and effectively to remain part of the customs union.”

He added: “That would certainly make the issues on the island of Ireland an awful lot easier to manage. “But of course the British Government’s stated position is not in agreement with that but that doesn’t mean we won’t continue to advocate for that.

“In the absence of that it is up to the British government to come up with flexible and imaginative solutions to actually try to deal with the specific island of Ireland issues.” Source: Newsletter.co.uk, author Mc Aleese. D, August 22, 2017.

UK’s “New Customs Partnership” – may grant Europe oversight of the Customs border

UK Brexit

Reuters reports that Britain will not rule out the possibility that the EU may retain oversight of customs controls at UK borders after it leaves the bloc, as the country seeks ways to keep unhindered access to EU markets following Brexit.

Last week, the UK published a policy document proposing two possible models for customs arrangements between Britain and the EU after withdrawal from the EU in 2019.

The first model was a “highly streamlined customs arrangement”, which involved the reintroduction of a customs border but which envisaged electronic tracking of shipments, rather than physical checks of goods and documents at the border.

An alternative proposal was the “new customs partnership”, which would remove the need for a customs border between the UK and EU altogether.

Under this model, the UK would operate as if it was still part of the bloc for customs purposes. British goods would be exported tariff-free and Britain would levy EU tariffs on goods coming into the UK for onward passage to the EU directly or as components in UK exports.

Lawyers said there would be a need for a mechanism to oversee the “new customs partnership” to ensure that the UK was correctly monitoring goods coming into the UK and destined for Europe.

The EU’s system of movement of goods across EU borders without checks works on the basis all members closely monitor shipments coming into the bloc from outside, to ensure the correct tariffs are paid and that goods meet EU standards.

The antifraud agency of the EU polices customs agencies across Europe to ensure that they are correctly monitoring imports. Source: Reuters, Bergin T, August 21, 2017

WCO – Strengthening Customs Business Partner Relationships in the SACU Region

CP Mission 16_01_465_ Successful Stakeholders Training

During November 2016, 16 Customs officers from SACU member administrations received training in the area of successful stakeholder consultation. The training was facilitated by Accredited WCO Experts from the SACU region. As a result of the workshop, participants drafted National Stakeholder Consultation action plans which outline the administration’s national effort in necessary interaction with key stakeholders. The action plans will be used to guide and improve cooperation with businesses in the implementation of the Preferred Trader Programme once they are approved by the Member administrations. Source: WCO

SACU – All’s not fair in proposed Customs Union reforms

SACU mapThe Southern African Customs Union (SACU) is an almost invisible organisation. Yet it has arguably had a profound impact on South Africa’s economic and even political relations with its much smaller neighbours – and on those four small countries themselves. But there are also deep differences among its five members – the others are Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland (BLNS) – about what the essential nature of SACU should be.

This weekend, SACU ministers will be meeting in South Africa for a retreat to try once again to set a new strategic direction, a roadmap into the future, for this critical body.

The leaders of the member countries will meet in a summit, also in South Africa, sometime before 15 July – when South Africa’s term as SACU chairs ends – to adopt or reject this roadmap. The aim of the changes in the SACU treaty would be to turn it ‘from an arrangement of convenience held together by a redistributive revenue formula to a development integration instrument,’ South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said during a press briefing in Kasane, Botswana, last Friday.

Davies said there were still ‘lots of differences’ among SACU members, which they had been unable to resolve despite years of negotiations.

SACU was founded in 1910 – the year South Africa was also created. Since then, the common external tariff it created has functioned as an instrument for the much larger South Africa to support the much smaller BLNS economically, by re-distributing to them a disproportionate share the customs tariffs collected at the external borders. Or, depending on your point of view, to relegate them to being passive markets for South African products.

The new African National Congress government, which came to power in 1994, ‘democratised’ relations with the BLNS by creating a Council of Ministers to make decisions by consensus in a new post-apartheid SACU treaty, which came into force in 2004. But the basic deal remained the same, as Davies implicitly acknowledged in last Friday’s briefing when he said: ‘we have historically just set the tariffs on behalf of SACU … and … in return for that, provided compensation … in the revenue-sharing formula.’

Also read – SACU Retreat announced by President Zuma

The re-distributive revenue-sharing formula has been hugely important for the government revenues of the BLNS. In South Africa’s 2015-2016 budget year, for example, the total revenue pool was expected to be about R84 billion, of which the BLNS would receive R46 billion – according to Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter, Acting Deputy Director-General in South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry, in a briefing to the parliamentary portfolio committee on trade and industry last year. She added that South Africa contributes about 98% of the total pool, while BLNS receive about 55% of the proceeds.

That meant South Africa was losing – or re-distributing – about R44.3 billion in that budget year, as de facto ‘direct budgetary support’ to the BLNS, to use the language of Western development aid.

‘This is seen as “compensation” for BLNS’s lack of policy discretion to determine tariffs, and for the price-raising effects of being subjected to tariffs that primarily protect SA industry,’ Mlumbi-Peter said.

A glaring example of that dynamic is South Africa’s maintenance of import tariffs on foreign automobiles to protect its own automobile industry. That, of course, makes automobiles more expensive in the BLNS countries.

And should South Africa choose instead to grant rebates on some tariffs – for example to encourage imports of inputs into South African industrial production – this would also impact negatively on the BLNS by reducing their tariff revenues, Mlumbi-Peter suggested.

In 2011, South African President Jacob Zuma chaired a SACU summit to review these inherent disparities. It agreed on a five-point plan to change SACU’s fundamentals, including a review of the revenue-sharing formula; prioritising work on regional cross-border industrial development, including creating value chains and regional infrastructure; promoting trade facilitation measures at borders; developing SACU institutions; and strengthening cooperation in external trade negotiations.

Nonetheless, as Davies said in Kasane, ‘we haven’t really been able to reach an understanding of what does development integration in SACU mean.’ And so Zuma had just completed a tour of visits to his counterparts in the BLNS countries to discuss these plans, and the upcoming retreat and summit. Davies said Zuma had found the BLNS leaders ‘flexible’ – though regional officials suggest otherwise.

Does South Africa, as the only really industrialised nation in SACU, not have inherent and irreconcilable differences with the rest of the body? Davies acknowledges that South Africa – with about 85% of the combined population, and about 90% of the combined GDP – also has most of the industries that demand tariff protection.

Nevertheless, he added, ‘We are all committed on paper to seeing tariffs as tools of industrial development… But there is also an obvious temptation for a number of other countries to see the revenue implications as more important.’ And, he did not add, there is also a growing feeling in South Africa that it could do with that R44 billion a year or thereabouts, which it gives to the BLNS every year.

The coincidence of the signing, on 10 June, of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union (EU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the attempt to revive SACU, underscored an ironic analogy of South Africa’s and the EU’s predicaments.

Also read – Historic Economic Partnership Agreement between EU and SADC 

With the EPA, the EU hopes to shift its relations with the SADC nations away from the traditional donor-recipient type of arrangement, to one of more equal and normal trade and industrial partners. That, essentially, is what South Africa is also hoping to achieve with its proposed reforms of SACU.

But it’s hard to see how South Africa is going to convince the BLNS to give up R44 billion a year of hard cash in hand, in exchange for the rather dubious future benefits of being absorbed into South Africa’s industrial development chains.

Source: Peter Fabricius – ISS Consultant.

Historic Economic Partnership Agreement between EU and SADC

EU SADC EPAThe EU has signed an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) on 10 June 2016 with the SADC EPA Group comprising Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. Angola has an option to join the agreement in future.

The other six members of the Southern African Development Community region – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Zambia and Zimbabwe – are negotiating Economic Partnership Agreements with the EU as part of other regional groups, namely Central Africa or Eastern and Southern Africa.

For specific details on the key envisaged benefits of the agreement click here!

The EU-SADC EPA is the first EPA signed between the EU and an African region, with an East African agreement expected to follow in a few months, but with the West African agreement having met fresh resistance. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström stressed at the signing ceremony the developmental bias in the agreement, which extended duty- and quota-free access to all SADC EPA members, except South Africa. Africa’s most developed economy has an existing reciprocal trade framework known as the Trade and Development Cooperation Agreement, which came into force in 2000.

South Africa, meanwhile, had secured improved access to the EU market on a range of agricultural products, as well as greater policy space to introduce export taxes. EU statistics show that bilateral trade between South Africa and the EU stood at €44.8-billion in 2015, with the balance tilted in favour of European exports to South Africa, which stood at €25.4-billion. This improved access had been facilitated in large part by South Africa’s concession on so-called geographical indications (GIs) – 252 European names used to identify agricultural products based on the region from which they originate and the specific process used in their production, such as Champagne and Feta cheese. In return, the EU has agreed to recognise over 100 South African GIs, including Rooibos and Honeybush teas, Karoo lamb and various wines.Sources: EU Commission and Engineering News