Border Management in Southern Africa: Lessons with respect to Policy and Institutional Reforms

The folk at Tralac have provided some welcomed insight to the challenges and the pains in regard to ‘regionalisation’. No doubt readers in Member States will be familiar with these issues but powerless within themselves to do anything due to conflict with national imperatives or agendas. Much of this is obvious, especially the ‘buzzwords’ – globally networked customs, one stop border post, single window, cloud computing, and the plethora of WCO standards, guidelines and principles – yet, the devil always lies in the details. While the academics have walked-the-talk, it remains to be seen if the continent’s governments have the commitment to talk-the-walk!

Regional integration is a key element of the African strategy to deal with problems of underdevelopment, small markets, a fragmented continent and the absence of economies of scale. The agreements concluded to anchor such inter-state arrangements cover mainly trade in goods; meaning that trade administration focuses primarily on the physical movement of merchandise across borders. The services aspects of cross-border trade are neglected. And there are specific local needs such as the wide-spread extent of informal trading across borders.

Defragmenting Africa WBThis state of affairs calls for specific governance and policy reforms. Effective border procedures and the identification of non-tariff barriers will bring major cost benefits and unlock huge opportunities for cross-border trade in Africa. The costs of trading remain high, which prevents potential exporters from competing in global and regional markets. The cross-border production networks which are a salient feature of development in especially East Asia have yet to materialise in Africa.

Policy makers have started paying more attention to trade-discouraging non-tariff barriers, but why does the overall picture still show little progress? The 2012 World Bank publication De-Fragmenting Africa – Deepening Regional Trade Integration in Goods and Services shows that one aspect needs to be singled out in particular:  that trade facilitation measures have become a key instrument to create a better trading environment.

The main messages of this WB study are:

  • Effective regional integration is more than simply removing tariffs – it is about addressing on-the-ground constraints that paralyze the daily operations of ordinary producers and traders.
  • This calls for regulatory reform and, equally important, for capacity building among the institutions that are charged with enforcing the regulations.
  • The integration agenda must cover services as well as goods……services are critical, job-creating inputs into the competitive edge of almost all other activities.
  • Simultaneous action is required at both the supra-national and national levels. Regional communities can provide the framework for reform, for example, by bringing together regulators to define harmonised standards or to agree on mutual      recognition of the qualification of professionals……. but responsibility for implementation lies with each member country.

African governments are still reluctant to implement the reforms needed to address these issues. They are sensitive about loss of ‘sovereign policy space’ and are not keen to establish supra-national institutions. They are also opposed to relaxing immigration controls. The result is that border control functions have been exercised along traditional lines and not with sufficient emphasis on trade facilitation benefits. This is changing but specific technical and governance issues remain unresolved, despite the fact that the improved border management entails various technical aspects which are not politically sensitive.

The required reforms involve domestic as well as regional dimensions. Regional integration is a continental priority but implementation is compounded by legal and institutional uncertainties and burdens caused by overlapping membership of Regional Economic Communities (RECs). The monitoring of compliance remains a specific challenge. Continue reading →

Heartless!

Fellow blogger ZIMDEV paints a bleak picture for casual cross border traders – Cross border trade has been the lifeline for many unemployed Zimbabweans who make a living buying and selling goods from various neighbouring countries. Late last year, the Zimbabwean government together with the Zimbabwe Revenue authority have introduces a ban on the use of the $300 rebate on most goods. The new tariffs are quite steep and leave no room for profit for the traders. Cross border traders, fed the nation when Zimbabwean shops were empty. They travel across borders, bringing in goods that are not available in Zimbabwe and play a vital role in the economy. One visit to Beitbridge will prove just how vital the cross border trade is to Zimbabwe. It is disheartening to see the government’s reaction to cross border trade.

Instead of enabling and facilitating trade, the government is stifling and discouraging trade and enterprise. Importers of blankets, footwear, refrigerators, stoves and other electrical gadgets now pay 40% of the purchasing price plus a flat rate of US$5 per unit as duty. Government is also now charging between 10% and 25% duty on basic commodities such as maize meal, cooking oil, potato chips, baked beans and mixed fruit jam. The consignment of goods is also charged according to the weight of the goods, each kilo being charged at $3. Cross border trade has been dealt a heavy blow.

While continental and regional efforts wax lyrical about future ‘free trade’ in the Africa, domestic efforts and policy appear to be in contradiction, or perhaps the political utterances at regional trade and AU conferences are mere hot air!  Read the full article here! Surely this should be a case for closer diplomatic collaboration between Zimbabwe and its neighbours, or are the ‘cross border traders’ the enemy?