UN COVID-19 project to support data exchange for international supply chain processes
The emergence of COVID-19 has shown an increased demand for coordination, efficient planning, modelling and risk control in many areas. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and its trade related United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) are strongly supporting multilateral engagement for interoperable cross-border standards, such as UN/CEFACT Data exchange Standards.
Multi-Model Transport Reference Data Model Ready for use
Many current regulations, standards, instructions and business capacity-building measures are available already. The comprehensive Multi-modal Transport Reference Data Model (MMT RDM) covers the requirements of international forwarding and transport, including related trade, insurance, customs and other regulatory documentary requirements based on the integration of trade facilitation best practices, developed by UN/CEFACT.
COVID-19 Project lead by GEFEG: Development of a standardised data set for the Transport sector
On behalf of the UN, GEFEG provides the project lead for the COVID 19 project. The project concentrates on ensuring the flow of goods and the transport across the various transport modes. Its overall objective is to set up a multi-modal harmonized set of mainly transport documents as a profile of the UN/CEFACT Multi-modal Transport Reference Data Model (MMT RDM).
The data sets developed include seven electronic exchange messages such as Booking Instruction, Shipping Instruction, Waybill, Bill of Lading, Packing List, Status Messages, Rapid Alert Security Food and Feed (RASFF) and their Business Requirement Specifications (BRSs). It has been checked that every data element with the same name also has the same semantic meaning.
The new profile of the MMT RDM will build a bridge to the already existing electronic exchange formats and allow a better use of state-of-the-art technologies such as block chain and APIs regarding the different transport modes.
Focusing on the different transport modes in the next phase
Additional information will be collected in the next phase, with a stronger focus on the different modes of transport. Results will be reported back to the Multi-modal Transport RDM and change processes initiated regarding relevant yet missing information in the MMT RDM. And last but not least, profiles of the MMT for the different modes of transport, such as air, rail, road, and maritime will be published.
Michael Dill, CEO of GEFEG is looking forward to welcome further participants in the project: “It will be important to get advice and hints on any missing data requirements across the various modes of transport! I would like to encourage colleagues involved in transport processes to join the next phase of the project. Your valuable input and expert knowledge would be very much appreciated.”
Interested parties wishing to participate in the project should contact firstname.lastname@example.org with subject detail: New Participant in COVID-19 project.
The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (the dtic) launched the Export Barriers Monitoring Mechanism (EBMM) that will put South Africa in a strong position to provide the type of consistent, ongoing support that is needed to continuously improve the country’s export environment. The Department’s e Deputy Director-General of Export Development, Promotion and Outward Investments, Ms Lerato Mataboge said the fundamental aim of EBMM is to make the government’s support to exporters facing barriers more effective, more flexible, and more accessible.
By creating a systematic approach to monitoring these barriers, the government can develop a long-term agenda to target the most important export barriers. By addressing each individual barrier, government can begin to manage each problem with the level of nuance and detail needed for these complex challenges.
During an initial pilot project, 28 key export barriers were processed by the EBMM and during the initial phase of the national lockdown, the EBMM methodology was used to process 76 barriers related to COVID-19. From today, the EBMM is open to any firm that encounters an export barrier of any kind, whether locally or in any foreign market.
In 2018, South African exporters faced an estimated 154,571 unique customs requirements worldwide. Over the last ten years, 23,795 new or amended technical barriers to trade have been registered with the World Trade Organisation; while over the same period 13,364 sanitary and phytosanitary barriers were registered or amended.
DTIC’s priority is to work progressively to smooth these barriers, the experience of the last decade of trade has demonstrated that we need to be prepared to manage this growing complexity. Increasingly, a key component of global competitiveness will be how we manage a constantly changing global trading environment. Managing this environment will only be possible through a close working partnership between the government and the private sector.
Speaking at the same launch, the Executive Director of the South African Electrotechnical Export Council, Ms Chiboni Evans, highlighted the importance of maximising content and projects in the African continent, and the important role played by export barriers in reducing competitiveness in the region.
Persistent logistics barriers meant that transporting goods by road took longer from all our major cities to mines in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. It was then easy for these countries to import goods from Asia, Americas and Europe rather than waiting on South Africa.
Highlighting previous experiences of partnering with the dtic to resolve export barriers, Ms Evans noted that a lot of the barriers to export can only be resolved by the private sector working together with government. She added that this new mechanism will assist greatly in opening up government support to a much broader spectrum of private sector individuals.
The World Bank has suspended its Doing Business report, which ranks countries based on the costs of doing business. It is the latest crisis to beset the institution.
“A number of irregularities have been reported regarding changes to the data in the Doing Business 2018 and Doing Business 2020 reports,” the global institution said in a statement on August 27.
The institution said it had informed the authorities of the most affected countries, but did not name them. “We will act based on the findings and will retrospectively correct the data of countries that were most affected by the irregularities,” the statement added.
The Wall Street Journal reported that data on China, Azerbaijan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia “appeared to have been inappropriately altered.”
If confirmed, the revised data could affect the rankings of the five countries. The latest report, for example, showed vast improvement among Middle Eastern economies with Saudi Arabia climbing 30 places.
The latest report, published last year, ranked Togo and Nigeria among the 10 countries that had shown the most improvement and collectively accounted for “one-fifth of all the reforms recorded worldwide.”
There are no reports that the scores of either country were tampered with.
In the report, only two Sub-Saharan economies, Mauritius and Rwanda, ranked among the top 50. Kenya, South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, and Togo ranked among the top 100 while South Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia ranked among the lowest globally.
The decision to suspend the rankings is also likely to reignite controversy around the annual report, particularly in the methodologies behind the rankings.
In the 17 years it has been published, the Doing Business reports have amassed “surprising influence over global regulatory policies,” researchers wrote in a paper published in 2019. The researchers found that the rankings strongly affect policy as governments make reforms to improve their ranking.
“Changes over time in the Doing Business rankings are not particularly meaningful. They largely reflect changes in methodology and sample—which the World Bank makes every year, without correcting earlier numbers—not changes in reality on the ground,” Researchers at the Center for Global Development wrote in February 2018.
In June, the Bretton Woods institution appointed Carmen Reinhart as its new chief economist. Reinhart’s two predecessors, Penelope Koujianou Goldberg and Paul Romer, resigned after less than two years on the job. Pinelope Goldberg quit in February, effective 1 March.
Romer quit in January 2018 after igniting a controversy around Chile’s ranking in the Ease of Doing Business Report, which he suggested may have been deliberately lowered under the presidency of left-leaning Michelle Bachelet.
A new information note published by the WTO Secretariat highlights how trade in goods and services has been affected by temporary border closures and travel restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It describes how the cross-border mobility of individuals plays an important role in both the cross-border provision and consumption of services and in manufacturing value chains.
The paper notes that sweeping travel barriers introduced in the early stages of the pandemic have given way to more fine-tuned policies aimed at allowing through “essential” foreign workers, or creating quarantine-free “travel bubbles” among partners. Nevertheless, mobility barriers have had a particularly heavy impact on tourism and education services, as well as on trade in goods, due to their effect on transport services and on information and transaction costs.
The paper notes that international cooperation has a potentially important role to play in minimizing the economic impact of mobility restrictions. For instance, exchanging information on lessons learnt about mobility restrictions and trade could help WTO members foster greater resilience in the face of future crises. Such an exercise could help with identifying options to implement travel measures that meet public health protection objectives while minimizing the negative effects on trade.
International trade and investment have always relied on the cross-border mobility of individuals.
To contain the spread of COVID-19, many WTO members imposed temporary border closures and travel restrictions. The severe restrictions on cross-border movement are not motivated by trade considerations but by public health reasons. Nevertheless, they have had a significant impact on trade. In several members, initial sweeping travel barriers have been replaced by more fine-tuned policies, aimed at allowing the movement of “essential” foreign workers, or creating “travel bubbles” permitting quarantine-free mobility among partners.
A significant amount of services trade requires physical proximity between producers and consumers. International mobility to consume or provide services abroad is one way to attain this proximity. Mobility is also important to the operations of services providers who establish a commercial presence in other countries, as well as to those who ordinarily provide services remotely across international borders.
Border measures and travel restrictions have had a particularly heavy impact on sectors such as tourism and education services. COVID-19 has triggered an unprecedented crisis for the tourism sector. In terms of travellers and revenue, international tourism in 2020 is expected to register its worst performance since 1950. In higher education, some institutions are facing a potential drop in international student enrolment of 50 to 75 per cent.
Mobility barriers also significantly affect trade in goods, through their impact on transport services and on information and transaction costs.
Restarting international mobility is unlikely to proceed in a linear fashion. Given the crossborder spill-overs resulting from measures affecting transnational mobility, a case can be made for supplementing domestic action with international cooperative efforts. WTO members may eventually wish to look into building greater preparedness and resilience for future crises, for example starting with information exchange about lessons learnt about mobility restrictions and trade. The exercise could help with identifying ways to implement travel measures that meet public health protection objectives while producing the least trade distortive effects.
Like with most businessecosystems, the functioning of global trade relies on efficient exchanges of information, especially of documents. While industries and ecosystems around the world are now digitizing associated processes and automating the bottlenecks, the business ecosystem of global shipping has been slower to realize innovation and digitization.
Supply chain processes require close coordination among many parties and a major choke point in this process is the requesting and finalizing of bills of lading with ocean carriers. There are many situations which cause even the most straight-forward flows to be disrupted and require multiple versions of documents to be created, reviewed and exchanged until final approval and the final bill of lading submission.
TradeLens Workflows utilize blockchain smart contracts to automate and digitize multi-party interactions — this helps drive efficiencies across supply chains. Let’s take a look at each major element to understand what digitizing document workflows looks like for the shipping industry.
Blockchain as the foundation
The foundation of TradeLens Workflows is a permissioned blockchain which guarantees the immutability and traceability of shipping documents and their processes on the platform. This is a very important building block in providing the trust needed to scale.
The permissioned blockchain transforms some of the basic concepts around business networks — contracts, ledgers, transactions, the flow of assets and identity of participants — and introduces the following:
Consensus. Transactions in a blockchain network are first proposed, then consented to by the group, and only then committed to the ledger.
Shared ledger. Trust anchors have an exact copy of the ledger.
Immutability. When a block is committed it is cryptographically secured with previous blocks in the ledger forming an audit log that becomes the foundation of trust.
Accountability: All participants are digitally identifiable, and each blockchain transaction is signed with a permissioned user digital certificate.
TradeLens Document sharing provides a framework for organizing and sharing trade documents related to a host of information such as shipments, consignments and transport equipment. This is all done through permissioned access according to the role of different players and includes security, version control and privacy provisions.
Each trade document is stored on a single stack within the blockchain network, under the control of the operator and accessible only to permissioned parties within a channel. Users can upload, download, view and edit documents as allowed by their permissions and access control on that specific type of document for the trade object in question.
It is important to note, only the hash of a given document is stored on the ledger. The document itself is stored securely where access is granted according to the TradeLens Data Sharing Specification. Each time a document is edited or uploaded, a new version is created and added to the document store. Every version can be verified against a hash of its original submitted content in the ledger.
Blockchain ensures the immutability and auditability of all these documents, promoting trust and alignment across trading partners.
Beyond document sharing
The TradeLens Workflow feature takes thedocument sharing capability one step further. It provides a way to interpret structured documents and take actions on them according to well-defined workflows. In other words, by understanding the purpose and contents of documents we can automate certain actions and notifications in the shipment flow.
As documents are submitted through the TradeLens API or UI, they are interpreted by looking at specific attributes that determine which trade object the document is applicable to, and which actions to perform. The actions are checked against defined rules and only specific actions by specific actors are accepted.
When all requirements are fulfilled, the document is saved and the appropriate action gets recorded as a transaction on the blockchain. Smart contracts ensure the state and progression of a TradeLens Workflow — what can be done at each step, and by which organization or actor.
Our workflows also update generated events to help notify subscribers (members of the supply chain) of the actions and results.
An example of TradeLens Workflow: SI-BL Flow
Let’s talk about a specific TradeLens Workflow — the SI-BL. This variation simplifies the process of sending a shipping instruction (SI) to the ocean carrier and receiving back a verified bill of lading (BL). The TradeLens SI-BL Workflow removes the need to manually edit, amend and transfer these critical documents, accelerating end-to-end flow to achieve a final bill of lading.
When a shipper (or their representative) submits a SI to the TradeLens Platform, it is analyzed by its attributes to determine which consignment it’s related to and which ocean carrier should be notified. Once the carrier has it, a draft BL is submitted back to the platform, the shipper can review and make amendments and share back to the carrier and so on, until a final BL is agreed upon. Because this is an automated process between systems at the shipper and carrier, manual tasks are eliminated along with their inherent delays.
There are many other variations of this flow, but the benefits come from the visibility and increased speed in processing these transactions. Also helpful for shippers, this offers a single mechanism and process for interacting with different ocean carriers with an immutable, shared audit trail for all draft BL revisions and approvals — all recorded on the blockchain ledger.
A digital ecosystem to meet old and new challenges
TradeLens Workflows help connect your ecosystem, drive information sharing and foster collaboration and trust by enabling the digitization and automation of how you work with others.
On 30 June 2020 the Secretariat of the Federal Revenue of Brazil (Receita Federal do Brasil), launched its first ever nation-wide Time Release Study (TRS) during an online live broadcasted event attended by over 4000 participants – including border agencies and the private sector, as well as Customs administrations from across the globe. The TRS, which follows the World Customs Organizations (WCO) TRS Methodology, constitutes a milestone for the Brazilian Customs Administration as it enhances transparency while providing an opportunity for an evidence based dialogue between all key stakeholders to tackle the identified bottlenecks and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of border procedures.
The TRS report was validated by the WCO in collaboration with the World Bank Group and with support of the UK’s Prosperity Fund. Speaking at the Opening Session of the launch event, WCO Deputy Secretary-General, Ricardo Treviño Chapa said: “This is a big step forward towards increased trade facilitation and provides a baseline to measure the impact of actions and reforms”. He also underlined that the Brazilian experience would be valuable to share with the wider Customs community and added that “the current health emergency shows that it is key to keep the flow of goods going”. Throughout the event the importance of the WCO’s TRS methodology was highlighted by various speakers as a vital tool for strategic planning and the implementation of the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement.
The study shows an average time measured of 7.5 days considering air, sea and road modes of transport. The Customs clearance stage accounts for less than 10% of the total time measured, while those actions under the responsibility of private agents represent more than half of the total time spent in all flows analysed.
To further increase transparency for importers and exporters, the Secretariat of the Federal Revenue of Brazil also intends to publish the raw data of the TRS.
The recording of the full launch event with Portuguese/English translation can be watched here (YouTube).
The TRS report and its Executive Summary are available here.
The World Trade Organization’s Director General, Roberto Azevêdo announced his resignation effective 31 August of this year. His tenure will end three years into his second four year term which was otherwise due to expire in 2021.
Azevêdo’s departure annouoncement comes in a week where a bill to withdraw the United States from the organization was introduced in the US House of Representatives by the Democratic Chairs of the Transportation & Infrastructure, and Energy and Commerce Committees. This following the introduction of a Joint Resolution to the same effect in the US Senate by Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri.
It comes as the organisation finds its dispute resolution function paralyzed by a US Appellate Body blockade, a potentially existential budget battle looms, its scheduled ministerial conference cancelled and even supportive members eyeing unilateral trade action in contravention of its principles.
At perhaps the most perilous time in its 25-year history, the WTO will be without a formally appointed leader, and the forthcoming selection process for his replacement hands the US yet another opportunity to exercise an effective veto over the organization’s future.
While not likely to be the straw that breaks its back, this unfortunately timed resignation is still a hefty new weight for an exhausted WTO camel whose knees were already trembling. As the kids would say, “It’s not great.”
While opinions on the Roberto Azevêdo’s performance vary, his departure couldn’t come at a worse time, and the process to replace him is both very long and just as susceptible to being held hostage by an ornery member as everything else in the organisation.
As a global champion of rules based trade, the WTO’s ‘DG’ has an important role to play in making the full throated case against the rising tide of export restrictions, protectionism and unilateralism unleashed by the US-China trade tensions and exacerbated by Covid-19. Now is no time for the system to be without its Knight in Shiny Armani.
As the head of the WTO secretariat, the director general was poised to play a key role in steering the organisation through what now seems a near inevitable battle over its budget at the end of the year. If the US once again blocked adoption of the WTO’s budget, it would have been up to him to try and forge a compromise, or make the difficult and controversial decisions required to keep the lights on, staff paid and fondue pot glowing in the face of an unapproved budget.
As the chair of the trade negotiations committee, the director general offers convening power, good offices, and a consensus building voice. With critical negotiations around fisheries subsidies, e-commerce, investment, and WTO reform all hanging in the balance, the absence of a Director-General only further decreases the likelihood of progress (perhaps from Hail Mary Pass to Igloo in Hell).
What happens now – Interim Director-General?
Upon Mr Azevêdo’s departure at the end of August, The rules now require the WTO General Council – a meeting of all WTO Members which serves as its highest decision making-body outside of a ministerial conference to appoint one of the four Deputy-Directors General as an interim director.
This presents a potential hurdle, as the WTO General Council makes decisions by consensus. Therefore, even a single member’s objection could prevent the appointment of an interim leader for the organisation.
The current deputies are Yonov Frederick Agah of Nigeria, Karl Brauner of Germany, Alan Wolff of the United States and Yi Xiaozhun of China. For obvious reasons, neither the US nor the Chinese DDGs are likely candidates for unanimous approval, and it is not impossible to envisage objections to Agah and Brauner as well – either personally or on general principle to sabotage the organisation further.
What happens next – A new Director-General?
Whether an interim DG is appointed or not, the WTO members will need to begin the process of selecting a new Director-General.
The procedure is lengthy and would ordinarily begin nine months before a DG’s term is set to expire. Once the process begins, WTO members have one month to nominate candidates, which must be their own nationals.
After this month is over, the candidates are expected to come to Geneva and meet with the WTO missions. The next seven months are to be spent weening the applicants down to a single final consensus candidate.
Is there politics?
Oh my god yes. While the Director-General has no legal authority to make or enforce the rules, WTO members are still intensely jealous of the position and allergic to any candidate they feel might impede their interests.
Arriving at a single consensus candidate requires a raft of compromises, trades and deals even at the best of times, which of course the current situation is not.
What happens if no consensus candidate can be found?
Theoretically, the rules do allow for a vote by the membership to select a Director-General. However, this procedure is both a measure of last-resort and intended primarily for a situation where the membership is split between two or more valid candidates and agrees by consensus on a vote to break the deadlock.
Were the US or some other member to block all candidates as a matter of principle, they would also likely oppose a vote. Even if a vote could then be forced regardless, it would only fuel the fires of those who argue the WTO has gone rogue.
So what does it all mean?
On its own, this resignation does not fundamentally change the state of play. The WTO is severely weakened, partially paralysed and increasingly in the crosshairs of the US, where concerns about it extend beyond the Trump administration and across party lines.
It does however rob the WTO of an experienced, consensus-approved leader at a time when both the organisation and the cause of rules-based trade desperately need one.
Still, though slim, there is hope the DG selection process might serve to revitalise the organisation. Long rumored candidacies like that of Kenya’s formidable Amina Mohamed, who chaired the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference to a successful conclusion and would be the organization’s first female and first African Director-General, offer a path to a more globally representative future.
The U.K. risks failing to recruit the 50,000 customs agents the logistics industry says are needed before Britain’s final parting with the European Union, spelling potential chaos at the country’s busiest border.
The coronavirus has hampered efforts to train staff to handle the extra paperwork firms will need to complete after the U.K. exits the EU’s customs union at the year-end, according to industry bodies involved with the process. One lobby group says its offer to help plug the shortage of recruits has met with silence from Whitehall.
Without enough agents, goods traveling to and from the EU, the U.K.’s single biggest trading partner, risk being delayed at ports, disrupting supply chains and heaping more pain on companies reeling from coronavirus. Even if the two sides strike a trade deal by December, agents will still be needed to process an additional 200 million customs declarations, according to estimates by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
“This is all blown out the water by the virus,” said Robert Keen, director-general of the British International Freight Association, which is helping to train workers to process the new paperwork with funding from a 34 million-pound ($43 million) government program. “Everybody is fighting to keep their businesses going.”
Keen’s industry group has postponed its classroom training until at least June. The number of monthly registrations for its online learning course has dropped by 80% since February.
Asked by lawmakers on April 27 how many agents have been recruited so far, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said he didn’t know.
He told members of Parliament the government had been in talks with the logistics industry about creating a training school. Such an initiative already exists — the U.K. Customs Academy was started in September with the Institute of Export. 876 courses have been initiated or completed since the academy opened, according to KGH Customs, which helps run the program.
“There is a significantly long way to go,” said Marco Forgione, director-general of the Institute for Export. According to him, the 50,000 figure is almost certainly a conservative estimate of how many agents will be needed. He is calling on the government to encourage people who have lost their jobs because of the virus to re-train as customs officials.
In a sign of how the virus has sapped attention away from Brexit in Whitehall, the Freight Transport Association submitted a proposal to the Treasury on March 17 about how to set up a mass education program to train up agents. More than a month later, the lobby group hasn’t received a reply.
“My impression is it has come to a full stop,” said Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy and public affairs at the Road Haulage Association. He expressed surprised he hadn’t seen any job ads for customs agents.
Talks to seal a trade deal between Britain and the EU have been disrupted by the virus. The U.K. is seeking a Canada-style accord which would eliminate tariffs on goods but create new non-tariff barriers like customs declarations and rules-of-origin paperwork. Without a deal, the U.K. would trade with the EU on terms set by the World Trade Organization, meaning steep duties on products from cars to beef.
Need to Prepare
The two sides have until the end of June to extend the standstill period Britain entered after Brexit on Jan. 31 – but the government has repeatedly ruled out seeking a delay. Business groups such as BIFA and the FTA have called for an extension, arguing firms shouldn’t have to face the double whammy of higher trade costs while still recovering from the negative effects of coronavirus.
A government spokesman said thousands of agents, freight forwarders and parcel operators had used the 34 million-pound fund to improve their IT hardware and train staff.
“The U.K. has a well-established industry of customs intermediaries who serve British businesses trading outside the EU,” the spokesman added.
Even if firms are able to divert resources into training later in the year, by when the virus might have abated, companies will still need time to prepare, said Arne Mielken, founder of Customs Manager, an advisory firm for importers and exporters.
“You can’t hammer in customs knowledge overnight,” he said. “We urge companies not to neglect the fact that Brexit is still happening.”
Source: Article by Joe Mayes, Bloomberg, 4 May 2020
Maintaining trade flows during the COVID-19 pandemic will be crucial in providing access to essential food and medical items and in limiting negative impacts on jobs and poverty.
The speed and scale of the crisis are unprecedented. But governments can ameliorate the impact. The following documents, hyperlinked to this page provide initial guidance for policymakers on best practices to mitigate pandemic-related trade risks, support trade facilitation and logistics, and implement trade policy in a time of crisis.
Managing Risk and Facilitating Trade in the COVID-19 Pandemic
Maintaining trade flows as much as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic will be crucial in providing access to essential food and medical items and in limiting negative impacts on jobs and poverty.
Some countries are closing border crossings and implementing protectionist measures such as restricting exports of critical medical supplies. Although these measures may in the short-term provide some immediate reduction in the spread of the disease, in the medium term they may undermine health protection, as countries lose access to essential products to fight the pandemic. Instead, governments should refrain from introducing new barriers to trade and consider removing import tariffs and other taxes at the border on critical medical equipment and products, including food, to support the health response.
Trade facilitation measures can contribute to the response to the crisis by expediting the movement, release, and clearance of goods, including goods in transit. The World Bank Group provides guidance and technical assistance to developing and least developed countries to implement best practices to facilitate the free flow of goods.
Do’s and Don’ts of Trade Policy in Response to COVID-19
Despite the initial inclination of policy makers to close borders, maintaining trade flows during the COVID-19 pandemic will be crucial. Trade in both goods and services will play a key role in overcoming the pandemic and limiting its impact in the following ways:
by providing access to essential medical goods (including material inputs for their production) and services to help contain the pandemic and treat those affected,
ensuring access to food throughout the world,
providing farmers with necessary inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, equipment, veterinary products)for the next harvest,
by supporting jobs and maintaining economic activity in the face of a global recession. Substantialdisruption to regional and global value chains will reduce employment and increase poverty.Trade policies will therefore be an essential instrument in the management of the crisis.
Trade policy reforms, such as tariff reductions, can contribute:
to reducing the cost and improving the availability of COVID-19 goods and services,
to reducing tax and administrative burdens on importers and exporters,
to reducing the cost of food and other products heavily consumed by the poor and contributing to themacro-economic measures introduced to limit the negative economic and social impact of the COVID-19 related downturn,
to supporting the eventual economic recovery and building resilience to future crises.
Governments with industries producing COVID-19 medical goods or food staples can further contribute by committing to refrain from limiting exports through bans or taxes. If export restrictions must be used, then they should be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary.Measures to streamline trade procedures and facilitate trade at borders can contribute to the response to the crisis by expediting the movement, release, and clearance of goods, including goods in transit, and enabling exchange of services.
Reforms can be designed to reduce the need for close contact between traders, transporters and border officials so as to protect stakeholders and limit the spread of the virus, while maintaining essential assessments to ensure revenue, health and security. Interventions to sustain and enhance the efficiency of logistics operations may also be critical in avoiding substantial disruption to distribution networks and hence to regional and global value chains.
The covid-19 pandemic is increasingly a concern for developing countries. Using a new database on trade in covid-19 relevant products, this paper looks at the role of trade policy to address the looming health crisis in developing countries with highest numbers of recorded cases. It shows that export restrictions by leading producers could cause significant disruption in supplies and contribute to price increases. Tariffs and other restrictions to imports further impair the flow of critical products to developing countries.
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
Three years since the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) entered into force on 22 February 2017, WTO members have continued to make steady progress in its implementation. Director-General Roberto Azevêdo, on the occasion of the TFA’s third anniversary, welcomed members’ efforts to ensure traders can reap the full benefits of the Agreement.
The TFA, the first multilateral deal concluded in the 25-year history of the WTO, contains members’ commitments to expedite the movement, release and clearance of goods across borders. As of the TFA’s third anniversary, 91% of the membership have already ratified the Agreement. It entered into force three years ago when the WTO obtained the two-thirds acceptance of the Agreement from its 164 members.
The Agreement is unique in that it allows developing countries and least-developed countries (LDCs) to set their own timetables for implementing the TFA depending on their capacities to do so. They can self-designate which provisions they will implement either immediately (Category A), after a transition period (Category B), or upon receiving assistance and support for capacity building (Category C).
As of 22 February 2020, over 90 per cent of developing countries and LDCs have notified which provisions they are able to implement after a transition period, and the ones for which they will need capacity-building support to achieve full implementation of the Agreement. Developed countries committed to immediately implement the Agreement when it entered into force.
Based on members’ notifications of commitments, 65 per cent of TFA provisions are being implemented today compared to the 59 per cent implementation rate recorded on the Agreement’s first anniversary. Broken down, the latest figure equates to a 100 per cent implementation rate for developed members and 64 per cent for developing members. As for least-developed countries, the improvement in the implementation rate is particularly notable at 31 per cent today versus the 2 per cent recorded a year after the Agreement entered into force. The implementation rate for each WTO member can be viewed here.
The Agreement has the potential, upon full implementation, to slash members’ trade costs by an average of 14.3 per cent, with developing countries and LDCs having the most to gain, according to a 2015 study carried out by WTO economists. It is also expected to reduce the time needed to import and export goods by 47 per cent and 91 per cent respectively over the current average.
Under the framework of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Customs Modernization Programme, funded by the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, WCO experts were invited to lead an AEO Validation Workshop for the South African Revenue Service (SARS). The Workshop was held from 10 to 14 February 2020 in Pretoria, South Africa. Mrs. Rae Vivier who is the Group Executive responsible for AEO in SARS opened the workshop and welcomed the WCO and SACU representatives with a key note address to all attendees. She gave assurance to the audience that AEO is taken seriously by SARS and is one of the organization’s key deliverables.
During the five day Workshop, the SARS AEO validation team was given an introduction to the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards (FoS), including all its Pillars, core elements, and AEO criteria etc. This was followed by a discussion on the essential elements of the AEO Validation Guidance, the sequential steps of the AEO validation procedures and the skills required by AEO validators.
The participants, comprised of Customs auditors, legal experts and client relationship managers, were given an opportunity to share their views on the similarities and differences between AEO validation and post-clearance audit. The core values of Customs-Business partnerships were highlighted as an important aspect towards achieving AEO programme implementation. Auditors with a Customs compliance mindset were given security validation knowledge and taught how to hold discussions with business on coordinating and enhancing international supply chain security and safety. Another important element underscored during the training was that validation of the applicant is central to accreditation, and that the applicant’s supply chain may not be tested. Accordingly, the applicant is responsible for securing its own supply chain.
The Workshop entailed extensive discussions on the self-assessment questionnaire prepared by SARS for potential AEOs taking part in the country’s AEO pilot. While referring to the WCO self-assessment template, the WCO experts also shared questionnaires by other Customs administrations. The participants and experts discussed how to enhance the questions posed, making it simpler for business to understand and answer them. A number of recommendations were made, including adding explanatory notes to the self-assessment questionnaire to help clients provide accurate information about their security and safety protocols.
A further aim of the Workshop was to include practical sessions, such as the mock validation process held at BMW’s South African plant in Rosslyn. Participants were told how BMW guarantees supply chain safety and security. Equipped with this information, the Workshop participants were given a walk-through of BMW South Africa’s processes for receiving goods. The lessons learned were shared among the Workshop participants and SARS management during the post-validation assessment. During that session, several Mutual Recognition Arrangements/Agreements (MRAs) signed between different Customs administrations were also referenced, so as to enhance learning and information sharing.
SARS embarked on its Preferred Traders Programme (PTP) in May 2017. The initial number of 28 accredited traders (importers/exporters) has grown to reach 119 as of 14 February 2020. Under the SARS Strategic Plan for 2023, the priority will be to focus on improving voluntary compliance and supply chain security through implementation of the standardized WCO SAFE/AEO programme. At the same time, SACU wishes to roll out PTPs for all its Members, while moving towards a full-fledged AEO programme in phases. To this end, the WCO experts discussed and shared views on the PTP compatibility assessment tool aimed at ensuring mutual recognition of Preferred Traders among SACU Members.
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
To mark International Customs Day 2020 – focusing on the theme of ‘fostering Sustainability for People, Prosperity and the Planet’, the following article from the Spring 2018 edition of World Trade Matters by Jan Hoffmann, the Chief of the Trade Logistics Branch, Division on Technology and Logistics at UNCTAD, is relevant. The article discusses global trade facilitation reforms, the digitalisation of trade and measures towards ensuring long-term sustainability in the maritime industry.
Confronted with growing populism and a surge in protectionist measures recorded by the WTO, policy makers and enterprises are struggling to avoid a backlash in international trade. At UNCTAD’s Trade Logistics Branch, we support these endeavours by helping to make trade work better. Through trade facilitation reforms, the promotion of digitalisation, and ensuring the long-term sustainability of international transport, we aim at ensuring that the international movement of goods is not confronted with unnecessary obstacles and costs.
A multilateral agreement to facilitate international trade
Under the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), developing countries commit to implement a number of very practical measures that make trade easier and more transparent. Countries are obliged to publish duties and procedures on the web, traders can transmit their declarations prior to the arrival of the goods, payments can be made electronically, and fees and charges must not become hidden taxes to generate income for the government. These are but some of the 37 concrete measures grouped into 12 Articles of the TFA. They are all useful and help make trade more efficient.
However, many of these measures involve an initial investment or reforms that require human and financial resources to start with, which developing countries many not have. The good news is that the TFA also includes a novel mechanism – the so called “Special and Differential Treatment” – that helps developing countries plan and acquire the necessary capacity prior to being fully committed to comply with all 12 Articles. Concretely, the mechanism puts the developing countries in the position – and obligation – to analyse and notify their own implementation capacity. At UNCTAD, we are working closely with the developing countries to enable them to do so. Our main counterpart in this endeavour are the National Trade Facilitation Committees (NTFCs) that each country must set up under the TFA. UNCTAD’s Empowerment Programme for NTFCs includes training and knowledge development for the members of the NTFC, combined with advisory services and the development of a Roadmap of TFA implementation.
By the same token, UNCTAD also supports developing countries in setting up Trade Information Portals. Under the TFA, members of the WTO are obliged to make relevant information on tariffs and trade procedures available on-line. UNCTAD’s Trade Information Portals not only help countries become compliant with this obligation, but in the process of analysing and publishing applicable trade procedures, a Trade Information Portal effectively helps countries identify the potential for the further simplification of procedures. Thanks to these new insights, NTFCs can then develop programmes and reforms that subsequently ensure the further simplification of procedures.
Technological progress will never be as slow as today
My favourite provision of the TFA is Article 10.1., as it provides for a dynamic dimension of the Agreement. According to this article, countries need to minimize “the incidence and complexity of import, export, and transit formalities”, continuously “review” requirements, keep “reducing the time and cost of compliance for traders and operators”, and always choose “the least trade restrictive measure”. As such, even if a country is compliant with all TFA provisions today, countries will need to continue monitoring if existing procedures are still appropriate in view of technological or regulatory developments.
As trade becomes increasingly digitalised, and new technologies which do not yet exist will be developed, it will be important that governments continuously revise and review the applicable rules and regulations.
Digitalisation comes in stages. First, we optimize existing procedures, making use of cargo tracking, the Internet of Things, blockchain et al. Second, new businesses are developed which could not exist without the new technologies; new platforms come into being and we see more “uberisation”. Finally, there is transformation and science fiction; still in our lifetime Artificial Intelligence will overtake human capabilities to manage international trade and its logistics.
But let us take one step at a time. At UNCTAD, we support developing countries through eTrade readiness assessments, the development and upgrade of technological solutions in Customs automation and Single Windows, and by providing a Forum for our members to analyse and discuss the challenges that come with digitalisation. We encourage the development of global standards that allow for interoperability among new systems. The challenge for policy makers it to encourage private sector investments in new technologies and solutions, while ensuring that no new monopolies emerge that might exclude smaller players.
And it has to be sustainable
While we aim at ensuring continued growth in international trade, there is a catch. The transport of this trade encompasses increasing externalities, such as pollution, green-house-gas emissions, and congestion.
Ports need to minimise social and environmental externalities. Many port cities are among the most polluted places to live, as ships burn heavy oil, and delivering trucks produce noise and cause traffic congestions. In addition, ports need to be resilient in the face of disruptions and damages caused by natural disasters and climate change impacts.
International transport, including shipping, needs to play a larger role in addressing global warming and contribute to mitigating the carbon emissions that are causing climate change. Shipping emits less carbon dioxide (CO2) per ton-mile than other modes of transport, but then due to its sheer volume it also produces many ton-miles. Would it be possible that the industry could be charged by its main regulatory body not per ship tonnage (as is currently the case), but per tonne of CO2 emission?
Currently, the International Maritime Organization is funded proportional to the tonnage registered under the members’ flags. Like this, Panama, Marshall Islands and Liberia pay for the largest share of the IMO budget – and in the end, this is passed on to the ship-owner, who in turn passes this on to the shipper, who will charge the consumer. This is a good established mechanism that could be expanded to also internalize the external costs of CO2 emissions.
Being the most globalized of all businesses, maritime transport should consider adopting a global regime that helps further internalize its environmental externalities – to ensure prosperity for all.
It is all about efficiency
Investing in trade facilitation reforms, making intelligent use of the latest technologies, and ensuring that externalities are internalized are all several sides of the same coin. Trade efficiency is necessary to promote an open international trading system. It requires a continuous effort by policy makers to continuously review current procedures, apply the most appropriate technological solutions, and support an efficient allocation of scarce resources.
Source: Jan Hoffman, UNCTAD – originally published in World Trade Matters, Spring Edition, 2018