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The World Customs Organization (WCO) hosted its first Global Conference on Transit at its Headquarters in Brussels.  This event, which comes right after the annual WCO Council Sessions, sees the launch of a new tool for the facilitation of transit and establishment of efficient transit regimes, namely the Transit Guidelines. At the end of the first day of the conference, all the panelists agreed on the usefulness of the Transit Guidelines for further developing and implementing their respective transit systems.  They urged the WCO to continue to update the Guidelines as a platform for future standardisation of transit systems.

Over 200 high-level delegates from more than 80 countries, including heads of Customs administrations, international organizations, development partners, the private sector and academia attended this Conference.

LLDC in AfricaThe landlocked countries in Africa are: Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Customs administrations are naturally playing a prominent role in the smooth movement of transit goods and, as a result, are in a position to support economic development, particularly in LLDCs.

That is why the WCO began developing the Transit Guidelines with the aim of harmonizing different transit frameworks, unlocking the potential of LLDCs, and taking practical steps towards efficient transit regimes as foreseen by international legal frameworks such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), the Vienna Programme of Action, and the Revised Kyoto Convention.  The Transit Guidelines contain 150 guiding principles and a variety of practical experiences of implementing efficient transit regimes, as shared by WCO Members and have been issued in four languages: English, French, Spanish and Russian. Source: WCO

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containeryardSouth Africa is moving away from a policy promoting trade and investment to one that contradicts this, a roundtable on SA-European Union (EU) trade relations heard on Tuesday.

This comes as global foreign direct investment (FDI) flows jumped 36% last year to their highest level since the global economic and financial crisis began in late 2008, but plummeted in emerging markets, especially SA.

The most recent United Nations (UN) Conference on Trade and Development global investment trends monitor shows FDI into SA fell 74% to $1.5bn last year, while FDI inflows to Africa fell 31% to about $38bn.

Central Africa and Southern Africa saw the largest declines in FDI. The end of the commodity “supercycle” and the plunge in oil prices affected new project developments drastically, the UN body said. This had also affected Brazil, Russia and China, but not India, whose economy had surged ahead of late.

Peter Draper, MD of Tutwa Consulting, which researches policy and regulatory matters in emerging markets, said the promulgation of legislation such as the private security bill and the expropriation bill, created an impression that SA was not an attractive investment destination.

“What lies behind all of that, I think, is an ideological agenda, which is not favourable to business,” he said. “Geopolitically there is no love between SA and the US and SA and the EU. (But) There is lots of love for the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, SA).”

South African and international business have raised the alarm over the quiet signing into law of SA’s Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill late last year, after the government had acknowledged that it would do little to promote trade.

Meanwhile, the Department of Trade and Industry said last week that the African National Congress had directed its economic transformation subcommittee to review the trade agreements signed by SA since 1999.

It said SA’s goal in “negotiating” trade agreements was to support national development objectives, promote intra-African trade and the integration of SA into global markets. This is likely to be highly controversial after the government from 2013 unilaterally cancelled about 13 bilateral investment treaties with major EU countries, drawing warnings from the bloc that this could damage trade relations.

Investors fear the Protection of Investment Bill has diluted recourse to international arbitration over trade disputes, and enhances the possibility of expropriation. Critics also say it contradicts SA’s obligations under the Southern African Development Community’s finance and investment protocol, by undermining equitable treatment between foreign and domestic investors.

John Purchase, CE of agribusiness association Agbiz, which with Tutwa Consulting organised yesterday’s roundtable, said the bill had not answered “all those questions around the bilateral investment treaties”. Source: Business Day

UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi (left) and the ITC"s Executive Director Arancha González, shake hands upon signing the Memorandum of Understanding. (UNCTAD)

UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi (left) and the ITC”s Executive Director Arancha González, shake hands upon signing the Memorandum of Understanding. (UNCTAD)

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Trade Centre (ITC) have joined forces to assist developing countries in the implementation of the recent WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement reached in Bali, Indonesia. The two agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding 4 March reaffirming this collaboration.

“The Trade Facilitation Agreement is a real opportunity for developing countries, but only if they can put its provisions into practice,” said Arancha González, ITC’s Executive Director.

“The two agencies complement each other very well and can offer meaningful support to developing countries together,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi. UNCTAD already has a successful programme in building institutional capacity around effective trade facilitation, while ITC has experience in building the capacity of the private sector and increasing their export competitiveness”, he added.

The programme which the agencies will develop will focus particularly on Least Developed Countries.

Initially, the cooperation will concentrate on helping countries to identify and categorise the commitments under the Agreement in categories A, B and C and ensuring support for implementing the transparency provisions of the Agreement. These include ensuring better and easier access to information for traders; helping to develop advance rulings and rights of appeal legislation; facilitating greater predictability and reliability of procedures through simplified formalities and documentation and the use of international standards; and the adoption of single windows for traders.

“These are just some of the areas where the ITC and UNCTAD have identified clear needs in developing countries based on UNCTAD”s needs assessment programmes and the surveys undertaken by the ITC of its SME clients,” Mr. Kituyi said.

“In some cases we will need to ensure better cooperation between the public and private sector,” Ms. González said. “This is the ITC”s bread and butter: supporting a trade dialogue between business and policy makers.”

The collaboration between the two agencies is in response to a critical issue identified by developing countries in the lead-up to December’s WTO conference: whether there was enough financing and to support the necessary reforms, particularly in LDCs. This partnership will provide an opportunity to donors and other development partners to demonstrate their commitment to the implementation of global trade facilitation reform by working with UNCTAD and ITC. The agencies will collaborate with other organisations and the private sector to advance implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.

“The hope is that donors will see this collaborative venture between the ITC and UNCTAD, as an effective and efficient platform for helping developing countries, especially LDCs, to take advantage of the benefits an effective facilitating architecture can bring,” Mr. Kituyi said.

The private sector is also urged to explore ways that they can partner with the ITC and UNCTAD to provide their expertise to SMEs in developing countries. “Making the process of trade easier in developing countries is a plus for the global trade reality,” concluded Ms. Gonzalez, “It is a win-win situation”. Source: UNCTAD

UNODC Anti-Counterfeit ImageThe World Customs Organization (WCO) welcomes the new global campaign launched by the United Nations (UN), under the auspices of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), to raise awareness among consumers on the dangers of counterfeit goods and their link to organized crime.

The campaign – ‘Counterfeit: Don’t buy into organized crime’ – is centred around a Public Service Announcement, entitled ‘Look Behind(click hyperlink to view), which will be shown on the NASDAQ screen in New York’s Times Square and will be aired on several international television stations, starting from 14 January.

With the aim of urging consumers to consider who and what lie behind the production of counterfeit goods, the campaign is a bid to boost understanding of the multi-faceted repercussions of this illicit trade, which according to the UNODC is worth 250 billion US dollars a year.

UNODC Executive Director, Yury Fedotov, noted that, “In comparison to other crimes such as drug trafficking, the production and distribution of counterfeit goods present a low-risk/high-profit opportunity for criminals.”

Fedotov further noted that, “Counterfeiting feeds money laundering activities and encourages corruption, and there is also evidence of some involvement or overlap with drug trafficking and other serious crimes.”

Counterfeiting is a crime that affects us all, from exploited labour being used to produce counterfeits, through to the harmful and potentially deadly dangers attached to these goods, and the links that these illicit goods have in potentially funding cross-border criminal and organized crime activities.

“With a long history of fighting counterfeiting and piracy at the national, regional and international level, the global Customs community is ready to support its United Nations partners in their efforts to raise awareness about this illicit trade activity,” said WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya.

Mikuriya further stressed that, “The WCO is firmly committed to countering the relentless attack on consumers by criminals involved in counterfeiting, as their illicit and even dangerous goods which are flooding markets across the globe pose a huge risk to public health and safety.”

Fraudulent medicines also present a serious health risk to consumers, as criminal activity in this area is big business, with the UNODC reporting that the sale of fraudulent medicines from East Asia and the Pacific to South-East Asia and Africa alone amounts to some 5 billion US dollars per year.

Criminals use similar routes and modi operandi to move counterfeit goods as they do to smuggle illicit drugs, firearms and people; in 2013, the joint UNODC/WCO Container Control Programme detected counterfeit goods in more than one-third of all seized maritime containers.

The WCO expends enormous resources on combating the counterfeit trade using a variety of means, including the organization of global enforcement operations and the introduction of IPM, a WCO tool which promotes cooperation and the sharing of information between Customs and rights holders.

Of particular relevance to the campaign is the WCO’s theme for 2014 which highlights the importance of communication and the sharing of information for better cooperation, which is highly instrumental in the fight against counterfeits in tandem with the Organization’s public and private sector partners.

Concluding, Secretary General Mikuriya took the opportunity to commend the UNODC on its latest initiative, offered his full support for the UN campaign, and urged WCO Members and Customs’ stakeholders to continue raising awareness about the perils of buying and trading counterfeit goods. For more information visit the WCO Website. Source: WCO

Picture1There is nothing nebulous about the “cloud”, especially as it applies to developing countries, a new UNCTAD report says. For businesses and governments in poorer nations to benefit from cloud computing’s increasingly rapid and more flexible supply of digitized information – the sort of thing that enables online marketers to rapidly scale up their information systems in tune with fluctuations in demand – massive, down-to-earth data processing hardware is required. Also needed is extensive broadband infrastructure, as well as laws and regulations that encourage the investment needed to pay for advanced information and communication technology (ICT) facilities and to protect users of cloud services.

UNCTAD’s Information Economy Report 2013, subtitled The Cloud Economy and Developing Countries, was released on 3 December 2013.

Referring to cloud computing, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states in the preface to the report: “This has considerable potential for economic and social development, in particular for our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to define a bold agenda for a prosperous, sustainable and equitable future.”

The report shows that cloud computing offers the potential for enhanced efficiency. For example, cloud provisioning may enable small enterprises to outsource some of the information technology (IT) skills that they would otherwise have to provide internally. Companies can benefit from greater storage and computing capacity, as well as the expertise of cloud service providers in areas such as IT management and security.

But the study notes that options for cloud adoption in low- and middle-income countries look very different from those in more advanced countries. While free cloud services such as webmail and online social networks are already widely used in developing nations, the scope for cloud adoption in low- and middle-income economies is much smaller than it is in more advanced economies. In fact, the gap in availability of cloud-related infrastructure between developed and developing countries keeps widening. Access to affordable broadband Internet is still far from satisfactory in developing nations, especially in the least developed countries (LDCs). In addition, most low-income countries rely on mobile broadband networks that are characterized by low speed and high latency and therefore not ideal for cloud service provision.

The report recommends that governments “welcome the cloud but tread carefully”. Within the limits of their resources, infrastructure such as costly data centres must be constructed; at present, developed economies account for as much as 85 per cent of all data centres offering co-location services.

The cloud’s pros and cons

In simple terms, cloud computing enables users to access a scalable and elastic pool of data storage and computing resources, as and when required. Rather than being an amorphous phenomenon in the sky, cloud computing is anchored on the ground by the combination of the physical hardware, networks, storage, services and interfaces that are needed to deliver computing as a service.

The shift towards the cloud has been enabled by massively enhanced processing power and data storage, and higher transmission speeds. For example, some central processing units today are 4,000 times faster than their equivalents from four decades ago, and consumer broadband packages are almost 36,000 times faster than the dial-up connections used when Internet browsers were introduced in 1993.

The potential advantages of cloud computing include reduced costs for in-house equipment and IT management, enhanced elasticity of storage/processing capacity as required by demand, greater flexibility and mobility of access to data and services, immediate and cost-free upgrading of software, and enhanced reliability and security of data management and services.

But there are also potential costs or risks associated with cloud solutions. The UNCTAD report mentions costs of communications (to telecom operators/Internet service providers) and for migration and integration of new cloud services into companies’ existing business processes, reduced control over data and applications, data security and privacy concerns, risks of services being inaccessible to targeted users, and risks of “lock-in” with providers in uncompetitive cloud markets.

Policymakers should waste no time in exploring how the cloud computing trend may affect their economies and societies, UNCTAD recommends. Countries need to assess carefully how best to reap gains from this latest stage in the evolving information economy. In principle, UNCTAD sees no general case for government policy and regulation to discourage migration towards the cloud. Rather, governments should seek to create an enabling framework for firms and organizations that wish to migrate data and services to the cloud, so that they can do so easily and safely. But government policies should be based on a careful assessment of the pros and cons of cloud solutions, and should recognize the diversity of business models and services available. The report underlines that there are multiple ways of making use of cloud technology, including public, private or hybrid clouds, at national, regional and global levels. Source: UNCTAD

Bali 2013A rather lengthy article published by Third World Network, but entirely relevant to trade practitioners and international supply chain operators who may desire a layman’s understanding of the issues and challenges presented by the WTO’s proposed agreement on ‘Trade Facilitation’. I have omitted a fair amount of the legal and technical references, so if you wish to read the full unabridged version please click here! If you are even more interested in the subject, take a look through the publications available via Google Scholar.

A group of eminent trade experts from developing countries has advised developing countries to be very cautious and not be rushed into an agreement on trade facilitation (TF) by the Bali WTO Ministerial Conference, given the current internal imbalance in the proposed agreement as well as the serious implementation challenges it poses.

“While it may be beneficial for a country to improve its trade facilitation, this should be done in a manner that suits each country, rather than through international rules which require binding obligations subject to the dispute settlement mechanism and possible sanctions when the financial and technical assistance as well as capacity-building requirements for implementing new obligations are not adequately addressed.”

This recommendation is in a report by the Geneva-based South Centre. The report, “WTO Negotiations on Trade Facilitation: Development Perspectives”, has been drawn up from discussions at two expert group meetings organised by the Centre.

Noting that an agreement on trade facilitation has been proposed as an outcome from the Bali WTO Ministerial Conference, the South Centre report said that the trade facilitation negotiations have been focused on measures and policies intended for the simplification, harmonization and standardization of border procedures.

“They do not address the priorities for increasing and facilitating trade, particularly exports by developing countries, which would include enhancing infrastructure, building productive and trade capacity, marketing networks, and enhancing inter-regional trade. Nor do they include commitments to strengthen or effectively implement the special and differential treatment (SDT) provisions in the WTO system”.

The negotiations process and content thus far indicate that such a trade facilitation agreement would lead mainly to facilitation of imports by the countries that upgrade their facilities under the proposed agreement. Expansion of exports from countries require a different type of facilitation, one involving improved supply capacity and access to developed countries’ markets.

Some developing countries, especially those with weaker export capability, have thus expressed concerns that the new obligations, especially if they are legally binding, would result in higher imports without corresponding higher exports, which could have an adverse effect on their trade balance, and which would therefore require other measures or decisions (to be taken in the Bali Ministerial) outside of the trade facilitation issue to improve export opportunities in order to be a counter-balance to this effect.

According to the report, another major concern voiced by the developing countries is that the proposed agreement is to be legally binding and subject to the WTO’s dispute settlement system. This makes it even more important that the special and differential treatment provisions for developing countries should be clear, strong and adequate enough. The negotiations have been on two components of the TF: Section I on the obligations and Section II on special and differentiated treatment (SDT), technical and financial assistance and capacity building for developing countries.

Most developing countries, and more so the poorer ones, have priorities in public spending, especially health care, education and poverty eradication. Improving trade facilitation has to compete with these other priorities and may not rank as high on the national agenda. If funds have to be diverted to meet the new trade facilitation obligations, it should not be at the expense of the other development priorities.

“Therefore, it is important that, if an agreement on trade facilitation were adopted, sufficient financing is provided to developing countries to meet their obligations, so as not to be at the expense of social development,” the report stressed.

The report goes on to highlight the main issues of concern for a large number of developing countries on the trade facilitation issue. It said that many developing countries have legitimate concerns that they would have increased net imports, adversely affecting their trade balance. While the trade facilitation agreement is presented as an initiative that reduces trade costs and boosts trade, benefits have been mainly calculated at the aggregate level.

Improvements in clearance of goods at the border will increase the inflow of goods. This increase in imports may benefit users of the imported goods, and increase the export opportunities of those countries that have the export capacity.

However, the report noted, poorer countries that do not have adequate production and export capability may not be able to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by trade facilitation (in their export markets).

“There is concern that countries that are net importers may experience an increase in their imports, without a corresponding increase in their exports, thus resulting in a worsening of their trade balance.”

Many of the articles under negotiations (such as the articles on ‘authorized operators’ and ‘expedited shipments’) are biased towards bigger traders that can present a financial guarantee or proof of control over the security of their supply chains. There is also the possibility that lower import costs could adversely affect those producing for the local markets.

“The draft rules being negotiated, mainly drawn up by major developed countries, do not allow for a balanced outcome of a potential trade facilitation agreement,” the report asserted.

New rules under Section I are mandatory with very limited flexibilities that could allow for Members’ discretion in implementation. The special and differential treatment under section II has been progressively diluted during the course of the negotiations. Furthermore, while the obligations in Section I are legally binding, including for developing countries, developed countries are not accepting binding rules on their obligation to provide technical and financial assistance and capacity building to developing countries.

The trade facilitation agreement would be a binding agreement and subject to WTO dispute settlement. The negotiating text is based on mandatory language in most provisions, which includes limited and uncertain flexibilities in some parts.

Therefore, if a Member fails to fully implement the agreement it might be subject to a dispute case under the WTO DSU (Dispute Settlement Understanding) and to trade sanctions for non-compliance.

“Many of the proposed rules under negotiations are over-prescriptive and could intrude on national policy and undermine the regulatory capacities and space of WTO Member States. The negotiating text in several areas contains undefined and vague legal terminology as well as ‘necessity tests’, beyond what the present GATT articles require.”

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TFPrinciples tfig.unece.org

India has proposed changes in the trade facilitation agreement to address the concerns of developing countries in the proposal that tops the agenda of the WTO‘s Bali ministerial scheduled for early December.

The trade facilitation agreement aims to smoothen cross-border trade by removing red tape, improving infrastructure and harmonising Customs procedures. Seen as the developed countries’ agenda, the emerging economies have sought relaxations in the legally binding clauses like clearing shipments within three hours.

“We have informed WTO that there needs to be some restriction on the scope of expediting shipment, and should be only limited to air cargo and that too very urgent ones,” a commerce department official told ET.

The country should also be allowed to restrict it to courier services, as the ones very urgent. WTO has subsequently agreed to relax the clause to make expediting shipments within six hours or as rapidly as possible instead of three hours.

Negotiators from 159 countries have held several rounds of talks since September in Geneva to forge a consensus on the multilateral agreement.

Although talks started in 2001 in Doha, lack of consensus between the developed and developing countries has lead to an impasse.

The ninth ministerial round in Bali is being seen as the last attempt to renew the global trade agreement agenda by focusing on the low hanging fruit such as trade facilitation.

India’s commerce & industry minister Anand Sharma told WTO director-general Roberto Axevedo during his Delhi visit in October that India was in support of the trade facilitation agreement, “but needs a balance in the pact”.

India along with other developing countries had raised objection to the clause, which calls for a sufficient time gap between the announcement of change in tariff to its coming into effect. This would be against India’s constitution, since most of the budget announcements related to tariffs come into effect within 24 hours. “We cannot change our constitution for WTO,” said the official, adding that India has submitted an alternative proposal to this effect, wherein, budget-related announcement should be kept out of this clause since they need to become applicable immediately. “Deliberations are still on, we need to be given flexibility,” he added.

Besides, India has sought a binding agreement on Customs cooperation under trade facilitation, which will ensure mandatory exchange of information between Customs administrations (on request) so as to prevent under-invoicing, overvaluation, tax evasion and illicit capital flows.

However, the developed countries want to agree to it only on ‘best endeavour basis’. “It is important for us, and has been on the table for over 20 year. It is only for cross checking, as information is available at both ends. However, developed countries are putting in so many conditions, confidentiality laws, secrecy. So, we are not sure in what form it will finally look like,” said the official.

India has also been pushing for a binding technical and financial assistance by the developed countries to the developing countries to accept TF agreement. Source: Economic Times (India)

PREVENTION AND COMBATING OF TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS BILLThe Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill has now been signed into law, giving South Africa, for the first time, a single statute that tackles human trafficking holistically and comprehensively. The legislative framework dealing with this issue had until now been fragmented.

The legislation dealing with sexual offences addresses the trafficking of persons for purposes of sexual exploitation only, while the Children’s Act addresses the trafficking of children specifically.

Besides creating the main offence of trafficking in persons, the new legislation also creates offences such as debt bondage, possessing, destroying or tampering with travel documents, and using the services of victims of trafficking, all of which contribute to innocent persons becoming victims of this modern-day form of slavery.

Penalties for these offences were appropriately severe, as a deterrent to would-be perpetrators. The main offence of trafficking in persons, for instance, attracts a maximum penalty of R100-million or life imprisonment or both in the case of a conviction. Compensation is furthermore payable by the perpetrators to their victims.

In addition to creating very specific offences that have a bearing on trafficking in persons, the legislation also focuses on the plight of the victims, providing them with protection and assistance to overcome their traumatic experiences. The new legislation gives effect to South Africa’s international obligations in terms of a United Nations Protocol.

While the legislation has been signed into law, its operationalization is dependent on regulations that are required to be made by a number of role-playing departments such as Home Affairs. Source: SAnews.gov.za

Cars and trucks at the South African border at Musina, Limpopo, queue to cross into Zimbabwe. The Unctad report says there are traditional transport routes in Africa - Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng.

Cars and trucks at the South African border at Musina, Limpopo, queue to cross into Zimbabwe. The Unctad report says there are traditional transport routes in Africa – Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng.

An official in the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), complains that Africa’s leaders repeatedly sign trade agreements and fail to implement them. Launching the organisation’s 2013 Africa development report in Johannesburg, Patrick Osakwe said leaders should set more realistic targets and “do more serious research” on the viability of the agreements.

Intra-African trade represents only about 11 percent of Africa’s total trade with the world, despite official commitments to improve the flows. Osakwe cited the case of the regional industrial policy adopted by the Economic Community of West African States in June 2010, which “has yet to be fully implemented”.

In June 2011 President Jacob Zuma announced talks on a 26-nation free trade agreement between three existing trading blocs, including the Southern African Development Community, of which South Africa is a member. Experts greeted the proposal with scepticism, noting a long history of leaders signing commitments to free trade or regional integration, but failing to follow through.

The Unctad report, which was launched simultaneously in Geneva and in centres in Africa, said development should be seen in a regional context: co-operation among countries in a broader range of areas than just trade and trade facilitation. It should include investment, research and development, and regional infrastructure development.

The report cited the Maputo Development Corridor linking Gauteng to the port of Maputo as “a successful, true transport corridor that has unlocked landlocked provinces in one of the most highly industrialised and productive regions of southern Africa”.

It said: “There are currently more than 20 corridors in operation in Africa but most tend to be traditional transport corridors. There is a need to move beyond that and to create industrial development corridors as well.

The report focused on intra-African trade and urged governments to unlock the private sector’s potential so that they could successfully diversify their economies. Most African countries are heavily dependent on commodities to grow their economies.

Africa accounts for only 1 percent of global manufacturing, and manufacturing represents only about 10 percent of African gross domestic product, compared with 35 percent for east Asia and the Pacific, and 16 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The share of manufacturing in intra-African trade fell from about 54 percent between 1996 and 2000 to 43 percent between 2007 and 2011, as the value of commodity exports soared.

The report identified a major challenge to expanding the manufacturing sector. The average manufacturing company in sub-Saharan Africa has 47 employees, compared with 171 in Malaysia, 195 in Vietnam and 393 in Thailand. The small size of the operations prevents businesses from achieving economies of scale.

Other barriers were weak linkages between small and large firms, a high share of informal firms, low levels of export competitiveness and a lack of innovation capability. Transport costs were also prohibitive. “In central Africa, transporting 1 ton of goods from Douala in Cameroon to N’Djamena in Chad costs $0.11 (R1.10) per kilometre, more than twice the cost in western Europe and more than five times the cost in Pakistan.” Source: www.iol.co.za

TCredit - Photobuckethe United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNTAD) yesterday ranked Nigeria Africa’s number one destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Africa for the second time in two years. The latest UNCTAD report, entitled, “Global Value Chains: Investment and Trade for Development”, put Nigeria’s FDI inflows at $7.03billion while South Africa recorded $4.572bn; Ghana, $3.295bn; Egypt, $2.798bn and Angola, 6.898bn; among others.

According to the report, FDI inflows to African countries went up by five per cent to $50bn in 2012, though global FDI declined by 18 per cent. The report noted that most of the FDIs into Africa mainly driven by the extractive industry, but said there was an increase in investments in consumer-oriented manufacturing and services.

Global FDI fell by 18 per cent to $1.35 trillion in 2012. This sharp decline was in stark contrast to other key economic indicators such as GDP, international trade and employment, which all registered positive growth at the global level,” which was attributed to economic fragility and policy uncertainty in a number of major economies, giving rise to caution among investors.

It added that developing countries take the lead in 2012 for the first time ever, accounting for 52 per cent of global FDI flows. This is partly because the biggest fall in FDI inflows occurred in developed countries, which now account for only 42 per cent of global flows. In 2011, Nigeria was ranked Africa’s biggest destination for FDI, with total inflows of $8.92bn, South Africa followed with $5.81bn, while Ghana received $3.22bn. Source: AllAfrica.com

 

bd-MukhisaKituyiFormer Trade minister Mukhisa Kituyi is set to become the next head of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), taking over from Thailand’s Supachai Panitchpakdi who beat him four years ago.

A statement posted Thursday at the UNCTAD’s website said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon formally nominated Dr Kituyi to head the 194-country member body when Dr Panitchpakdi’s second four-year term ends in August.

If confirmed by the UN General Assembly, Dr Kituyi’s first four-year term as Secretary-General will start on September 1, putting Kenya at the zenith of global trade and investment policy advocacy. For a man widely celebrated for reigniting developing countries’ activism against perceived domination by rich nations during his term as Trade minister, the UNCTAD is likely to benefit immensely from Dr Kituyi’s experience.

The UN agency established in 1964 has a responsibility of promoting development-friendly integration of developing countries into the world economy by ensuring that domestic policies and international actions are mutually supportive in bringing about sustainable development. It is the UNCTAD that publishes the annual world investment reports which show that global investment capital has largely shun African countries except those with abundant natural resources such as minerals and oil.

As head of the UNCTAD secretariat, Dr Kituyi is expected to play up these concerns in his interaction with member Governments, UN agencies and regional commissions. He is also expected to popularise perfectives of poor nations in his interactions with governmental institutions, non-governmental organisations, the private sector, including trade and industry associations, research institutes and universities worldwide. Source: Business Daily Africa

Delegates from the SADC member states gathered in Port Louis, Mauritius between 9 and 13 October to establish a SADC Customs ICT strategy for the region. The conference, sponsored by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, coincided with the 200th anniversary of Customs in Mauritius.

Following recent developments on IT connectivity and data exchange in the region, the conference addressed other areas of ICT in Customs which have a significant influence not only for internal Customs processing but its impact and effect on the broader stakeholder community. The conference was well attended with representatives from Angola, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Mauritius, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, and South Africa.

The event also drew international interest with representatives from the World Customs Organisation, Trans-Kalahari Corridor, SA Trade Hub, the East African Community, Southern African Customs Union, and the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

“Customs Connects, Borders Divide” conveyed the central theme for the event with the WCO IT and Capacity Building expert, Mats Wicktor, providing an enabling platform upon which the conference deliberations occurred. A detailed presentation clearly outlined the WCO’s the basis for standards, recommendations and guidelines, with specific reference to the Data Model, the Unique Consignment Reference and the most recent developments on Globally Networked Customs (GNC).

Other keynote addresses were made by Mozambique (DGA) on their experience in implementing the Single Window concept (for more details on this project visit URL: http://tfig.unece.org/case-stories.html).  Host nation Mauritius presented their Cargo Community System, and a number of other IT developments namely, e-Certificate of Origin, valuation database for 2nd hand motor vehicles, and the recently implemented Customs Enforcement Network (CEN) solution. SARS presented its Customs Modernisation journey highlighting some of the key ICT products and features and the respective efficiencies and trade facilitation benefits introduced for trade. Furthermore, it elaborated on its current bilateral data exchange initiatives with Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Mozambique as well as the IBSA countries.

The business end of the conference saw the finalisation, tabling and vetting of a draft SADC Customs ICT strategy. The strategy provides a broad framework, focussed around the concept of Customs-to-Customs data exchange. It seeks to create synergy between member states in regard to aspects such as transit management, common risk and enforcement principles, the entrenching of the One Stop Border Post concept, as well as automation of certificates of origin. From a SADC point of view, the strategy will support the realisation of its Strategic Plan – envisaged to include a Customs Union.

UNECE-Trade Facilitation Implementation GuideHaving spent the better part of the last fortnight amongst customs authorities and implementors of Single Window, I’m compelled to share with you a site (if you have not already been there) which attempts in a simple but comprehensive way to articulate the concept and principles of Trade Facilitation and its relationship and connotation with Single Window. The UNECE Trade Facilitation Implementation Guide should come as a welcomed resource, if not a companion, to trade facilitation practitioners and more specifically Customs Authorities wishing to embark on a trade facilitation approach. Of course it is a very useful reference for the many avid scholars on customs and trade matters across the global village. Of particular interest are the case studies – two of which feature African countries (Mozambique and Senegal) – providing a welcomed introduction of trade facilitation and Single Window on our continent. It is good to note that Single Window has less to do with technology and more to do with inter-governmental and trade relationships and an understanding of how these are meant to co-exist and support one another  – Enjoy!

Trade facilitation is emerging as an important factor for international trade and the economic development of countries. This is due to its impact on competitiveness and market integration and its increasing importance in attracting direct foreign investments. Over the last decade, it has gained prominence in the international political agenda as part of the ongoing WTO multilateral trade negotiations as well as of wide international technical assistance programs for developing and transition economies.

The primary goal of trade facilitation is to help make trade across borders faster and cheaper, whilst ensuring its safety and security. In terms of focus, it is about formalities, procedures, and the related exchange of information and documents between the various partners in the supply chain. For UNECE and its UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), trade facilitation is “the simplification, standardization and harmonization of procedures and associated information flows required to move goods from seller to buyer and to make payment”. Such a definition implies that not only the physical movement of goods is important in a supply chain, but also the associated information flows. It also encompasses all governmental agencies that intervene in the transit of goods, and the various commercial entities that conduct business and move the goods. This is in line with discussions on trade facilitation currently ongoing at the WTO. Source: UNECE

FTW Online recently reported that representatives of hundreds of thousands of African tobacco farmers are gathering at the International Tobacco Growers Association Africa Regional Meeting this week to discuss what they see as outrageous recommendations being developed by international regulators that they believe would destroy their livelihoods.

Farmer leaders attending the meeting from Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe will focus on the recommendations provided by the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) working group on Articles 17 & 18. The FCTC originally recommended that governments of these countries should help tobacco farmers find viable economic alternative crops, assuming that tobacco demand will decline.

Very little research on alternative, economically viable crops has been undertaken and as the group recognizes, any future research will require lengthy time trials. “However, the FCTC has now put forward unreasonable and absurd measures to phase out tobacco production, without offering the vast African farming community any viable fall-back solutions,” the farmers claim.

Numerous countries, such as Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania now face the prospect of seeing millions of jobs lost and a huge decline in the export of tobacco. Tobacco cultivation is critical for the economy in these countries and one of the few agricultural activities to have remained buoyant during the recent worldwide economic crisis. The latest guidelines drafted by bureaucrats in Geneva threaten to undo that for no clear benefit.

“These guidelines are just plain wrong whichever way you look at them. Nobody has explained to me how banning some cigarette products and ignoring others will have any benefit for people’s health,” said Roger Quarles, President of the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA). “It will just be a disaster for those growers who grow leaf for traditional blended products.” The ITGA represents more than thirty million tobacco growers across Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America. “We call on governments all over the world to support growers by adopting a common sense approach and discarding these irrational and potentially economically devastating guidelines.”

The Case of Malawi

The association says switching from tobacco in Malawi to other crops is unrealistic as it would require huge investments, pointing out that tobacco is by far cheaper to produce and benefits more people than most of the next best alternatives. “For example, investment required for a farmer in Malawi to grow two hectares of flowers is equivalent to the investment required to grow 1 000 hectares of burley tobacco. The difference is that 1 000 hectares of burley tobacco provides a livelihood for 500 farmers. So, given that the average farmer in Malawi only has two hectares at his disposal, switching to flowers is simply unrealistic”.

ITGA says one crop that has been recognised as being more profitable than tobacco in Malawi and other tobacco-growing countries is paprika. But the association says world demand for paprika is only 120 000 tonnes. “A single country like Zimbabwe could cope with this demand but the result would be overproduction of paprika and the impact on exiting paprika growers would be catastrophic,” it says. The association also argues that a farmer that grows burley tobacco cannot switch to Virginia tobacco because Virginia tobacco has an industrial curing process requiring huge investment and needs a much greater area than burley “in order to be profitable.”

Tobacco is Malawi’s most important cash crop, accounting for nearly 60 percent of total export earnings and makes up 13 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). It is also the single largest employer, with more than two million people directly or indirectly relying on the crop. With such an influence, paralysing the industry could cripple the economy in a way that may take the country decades to recover. Sources: FTW Online, TIMSA, and Buisness Wire.

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WCO-SACU IT Interconnectivity and Data Exchange Conference

On the occasion of International Customs Day, in January earlier this year, the World Customs Organisation dedicated 2012 as the year “Connectivity”, which encapsulates people connectivity, institutional connectivity and information connectivity among the members of the global Customs community.

Over the last week and a half delegates from the WCO, SACU, UNCTAD, SADC and COMESA have been hosted at SARS, Pretoria to discuss and deliberate over an approach to implement ‘IT connectivity’ within the Southern African region. During the first week representatives from UNCTAD, SACU and SARS were briefed on important developments at the WCO on IT-Interconnectivity and Information Exchange. We were privileged to have Mr. Satya Prasad Sahu, Technical officer from the WCO – a leading expert in all matters of ICT in international customs matters – present the developments towards finalisation of a future international customs standard called “Globally Networked Customs” (GNC). It entails a structured approach that will enable customs authorities to formulate and document bilateral or regional ‘standards’ on a variety of Customs-to-Customs topics, for instance Authorised Economic Operators, Cross Border Information Exchange, Risk Management, etc. A representative from UNCTAD presented a synopsis of the proposed ‘cloud computing solution’ which the Trans Kalahari Corridor (TKC) plans to pilot between Namibia and Botswana along the TKC route in the next few months. During the course of this week, delegates , under the guidance of Satya, prepared a proposed approach for information exchange between members of the Southern African Customs Region. This document is based on the GNC Utility Block structure (defined by the ad Hoc Committee on Globally Networked Customs at the WCO) and served as the basis for discussion for Week 2.

Mr. SP Sahu (WCO) and delegates from SACU SecretariatWeek 2 saw the arrival of customs and IT representatives from COMESA, SADC, UNCTAD, SACU as well as a delegation from Mozambique Customs. Mr. Sahu was invited to chair the session, given his vast experience on the subject matter as well as international experience in national and regional customs ICT programmes. Delegates were treated to various lectures on the GNC, a comprehensive overview of developments on ASYCUDA (Customs solution developed by UNCTAD), various updates from within the customs region – Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and SARS. Beyers Theron informed delegates of ongoing developments of the SARS Customs Modernisation Programme as well as key implications for neighbouring countries. SARS presented a live demonstration of SARS’ Service Manager solution, navigating through all the functionality now available to SARS Customs officials. Of significant interest to all was the new iPod inspection tool. This technology is given prominent feature in the latest edition of WCO News.

A large portion of the week was, however, spent on deliberating the proposed scope and content of the draft Utility Block on Information Exchange in the Southern African Region. Significant progress was been made to attain first, a common understanding of the scope as well as the implications this has for participating countries. Delegates will return home with a product with which to create awareness and solicit support in their respective countries. Over the next few months SARS will engage both SACU and SADCOM (combined SADC and COMESA trading blocs) to establish firm commitments for information exchange with customs administrations in these regions. This conference is significant for SARS and South Africa as a whole as it provides a uniform, standardised and practical approach for engagement with other international trading partners. To view photographs of the conference please click here!