Archives For Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa

Walvis Bay - making headway (www.transportworldafrica.co.za)

Walvis Bay – making headway (www.transportworldafrica.co.za)

The Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa has agreed to avail US$1,4 million for phase one of the construction of the country’s Walvis Bay dry port. The government of Namibia in September 2009 granted Zimbabwe 19 000 square metres of land to construct its own dry port that is expected to boost the country’s trade. The project is being spearheaded by the Road Motor Services, a subsidiary of the National Railways of Zimbabwe.

In an interview, RMS managing director Mr Cosmos Mutakaya said the Ministry of Industry and Commerce last month held a consultative meeting with Comesa to strategise on how to fund the project.

“Comesa is looking at funding projects with a regional integration element that countries within the Southern African Development Community would benefit from. In the last meeting we held, Comesa indicated their willingness to finance the first phase of the facility which will cost US$1,4 million,” he said.

He said all the relevant documentation had been submitted and they are now waiting for a response from Comesa.

Mr Mutakaya said construction of the dry port would be done in two phases. The first phase involves the civil works which includes construction of the drive-in weighbridge, storage shades, palisade fencing as well as installation of electric catwalks. Phase two involves the putting up of administration blocks. He said once phase one is completed, then the dry port operations will start.

“We are now waiting for the unlocking of funds from Treasury and Comesa for us to start construction. The Namibian contractor, Namport, will also start working on the port once the funds are made available. According to the contractor, phase one of the project is going to take five working months to complete,” Mr Mutakaya said.

He said the project, which was supposed to have been completed by May this year, had been stalled by the lack of funding.

An official at the Namibian desk office in the Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed that operations at the port had stopped for a while due to a lack of funding. “Government has been facing challenges in making payments to the Walvis Bay Corridors Group, responsible for the construction at the port and operations had to be stopped for some time pending clearance of some outstanding fees by Government,” he said.

Trade for Zimbabwe via Walvis Bay has increased for the past few years and a large percentage of commodities are transported along this corridor. Zimbabwe’s trade volumes through the Port of Walvis Bay have grown significantly to more than 2 500 tonnes per month.

In a related development, the Namibian Ports Authority is also working on expanding Walvis Bay port and recently secured a US$338 million loan from the African Development Bank to finance the construction of a new container terminal at Port of Walvis Bay. The Namibian government also received US$1,5 million for logistics and capacity building complementing the port project loan. Source: The Herald (Zimbabwe)

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Kenya's capital Nairobi, September 23, 2011. The road, which is being built by China Wuyi, Sinohydro and Shengeli Engineering Construction group, is funded by the Kenyan and Chinese government and the African Development Bank (AFDB). The project will cost 28 billion Kenyan shillings ($330million), according to the Chinese company. AfDB has cut the expected economic growth rate for Kenya in 2011 to 3.5-4.5 percent from an earlier forecast of 4.5-5 percent due to high inflation and a volatile exchange rate, the bank's country economist for Kenya said on Friday. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Kenya’s capital Nairobi, September 23, 2011. The road, which is being built by China Wuyi, Sinohydro and Shengeli Engineering Construction group, is funded by the Kenyan and Chinese government and the African Development Bank (AFDB). REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

The citizens of the African continent have been introduced to one grand vision of development after the other – from OAU to AU. However, there is a tendency by some of the member countries to retreat from fulfilling regional treaty commitments, which, in some cases, would entail losing a degree of sovereignty.

What is the biggest stumbling block to achieving the African Integration Vision?

But after more than 50 years of solemn regional integration declarations these rhetorical and symbolic efforts still haven’t made the regional integration schemes any more inclusive. For example, when analysing the ‘inclusiveness’ trends as measured by Poverty and Income Distribution Indicators, most Sub-Saharan African countries won’t achieve the MDG target of reducing extreme poverty rates by half ahead of the 2015 deadline. This is despite the increasing total merchandise export as well as within most of the regional economic communities (RECs).

Some have tried to absolve policy-makers of the lack of progress with regards to achieving the milestones of the “linear” integration model based on the European experience and advocated by the Abuja Treaty. They propose an alternative non-trade oriented approach; the so-called functional regional cooperation. This perspective focuses on setting standards for transport such as the SADC recognized driving license; construction of a new regional corridors; an African identity etc. This less ambitious but perhaps more realistic perspective could lead to failure in removal of trade barriers, while at the same time presenting a much more positive outlook of regional integration than what international economic data would otherwise show.

The AfDB is attempting to get to the bottom of this regional integration – inclusive growth conundrum in its 2013 African Development Report, currently under preparation. But we might already get some good answers to this question through an ongoing research project entitled ‘PERISA‘. Led by the ECDPM & SAIIA, it intends to look deeper into what regional integration/cooperation really entails and what the underlying drivers/factors and specific bottlenecks are. In July, we got a hint on what to expect from the research project from a very enriching Dialogue on the Drivers and Politics of Regional Integration in Southern Africa.

National versus Regional

South Africa has developed a ‘2030 vision’ and national strategic plan. It includes some proposals to reposition South Africa hegemon in the region. However, very few of the National Development Plans (NDP) in Southern Africa even mention regional integration. Mauritius being an exception as it benefits from the support of the Regional Integration Support Mechanism (RISM), which is disbursed directly into the budget of the government as untargeted financial assistance. Notwithstanding this support and the disbursement to the nine other Member States of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and additional donor-supported initiatives in other RECs, there is still a flagrant absence of alignment between commitments taken at the regional level and the actual planning process at the national level.

This discrepancy between the regional and national level is a matter of concern because if these Regional Trade Agreement (RTA) commitments do not feature amongst the country’s national priorities then there is an even greater risk that they will not be implemented in practice. This latent risk perhaps goes a long way in explaining the relative poor record when it comes to the level of domestication of regional integration legal instruments, implementation of trade and regionalintegration-related budgets, implementation of Council of Ministers’ trade-related decisions, which the AfDB will seek to capture through its forthcoming system to measure regional integration in Africa.

During the meeting a call for a community of practice among national planning agencies was made which could assist and drive the integration process through the convening of regular meetings between regional and strategic national planners. It is positive to observe that Southern African countries seem to have warmed up to this idea of an informal community of practice outside the formal institutional structure.

What can Development Finance Institutions do about this inertia?

In addition to the supply-driven collection of regional integration statistics, Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) could also lend technical and financial support to the formation of Regional Planning entities’ process. Amongst others this could include providing support to the above-mentioned community of practice of national development planners interacting with regional planners. This could eventually ensure that regional integration gets fully mainstreamed within the national planning policy instruments as illustrated in Mauritius’ latest 2013 budget, whose overarching theme rests on six main objectives, including fast-tracking regional integration.

There seems to be a consensus that the RECs must have technical capacity to facilitate the RTA negotiation process and decision-making process. Both the UK Department for International Development (DFID) through its TMSA programme and the AfDB through its forthcoming 2014-2016 Tripartite Capacity Building Programme are attempting to address this deficiency in a coordinated manner in line with fundamental principles of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. Source: ECDPM
website (An analysis by Christian Kingombe, Chief Regional Integration & Infrastructure Officer at the AfDB).

 

COMESAUganda has become the 15th member of the Free Trade Area (“FTA”) established by COMESA. Under the membership, the tariff on Ugandan goods will be reduced to 0 percent when exported to other signees, compared to the two percent levy on goods to and from non-member states.

The COMESA FTA began in 2000, and its other member states are Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Sudan, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Uganda was a founding member of COMESA in 1994 but until now was excluded from the FTA. As the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan are Uganda’s biggest trading partners, there is speculation that they will be the next two states to be granted membership.

Sub-Saharan Africa, which includes many of the FTA’s member states, has one of the strongest growth rates in the world, and its regional growth is expected to exceed five percent this year. The opportunity for infrastructural development will continue to grow in line with this, creating a wealth of investment opportunities for banks and lenders. Analysts have identified a particular need for infrastructure in energy and oil and gas-related sectors, as well as transport. Source: Lexology.com

500px-Emblem_of_the_African_Union_svgThe African Union (AU) Technical Working Group on Interconnectivity has developed a ‘draft’ Strategy and Roadmap for Customs-2-Customs IT Connectivity on the continent. This strategy will effectively guide the process of the continental Interconnectivity of Computerized Customs Clearance and Information Systems in Africa. The ‘draft’ Roadmap envisages that the process of interconnectivity will take a period of 11 years with a total of four stages.

Stage 1 – by 2014, National states should have engaged one another (within their respective regions) on the matter of Customs connectivity.

Stage 2 – between 2013 and 2017, the AU has an extremely ambitious expectation that national Customs Administrations would have (at least commenced) if not completed Customs ‘connectivity’ within the various Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in Africa.

Stage 3 – between 2017 and 2020, the suggestion that Customs interconnectivity will be occurring between RECs across the African continent – North Africa: AMU; West Africa: ECOWAS and UEMOA; Central Africa: ECCAS and CEMAC; East Africa: COMESA, EAC, IGAD; and South Africa: SADC and SACU.

Stage 4 – between 2020 and 2025, consolidation of Customs IT-Connectivity across the RECs.

The ‘draft’ Strategy spells out the strategic objectives and activities at the national, regional and continental level that will need to be taken for this to be realized. The strategy also indicates the roles of all the major stake holders in the process.  This comes in the wake of several regional and bi-lateral initiatives to bridge the ‘cross-border divide’ through electronic exchange of structured customs information.

All in all an ambitious plan structured to meet the equally ambitious deadlines of the coming into being of an African Union. The real challenge in all of this lies with the Member States in being able to set aside and commit to regional and continental ambitions, over and above the already pressing and complex national agenda’s of their respective sovereign countries. In context of the African Union, the multiplicity of RECs in themselves add a layer of duplication…..is an “integrated Customs Union” in Africa going to continue to permit the existence of the respective RECs or will they be absorbed into the African Union? Member states need to begin speaking up on this issue otherwise accept being swamped by onerous commitments. No doubt the ‘international donor agencies’ wait eagerly in the wings to capitalise on Africa’s deficiencies.

Workers offload imported sugar at the port of Mombasa. Comesa has already gazetted transit goods routes, which have been geo-fenced and trucks following these routes will be monitored. Photo/File  Nation Media Group

Workers offload imported sugar at the port of Mombasa. Comesa has already gazetted transit goods routes, which have been geo-fenced and trucks following these routes will be monitored. Photo/File Nation Media Group

A new online system being implemented by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) trading bloc is expected to cut down non-tariff barriers, reduce the cost of doing business and improve intra-regional trade.

The $1 million (Sh84 million) system – which is being developed by Comesa and funded by the European Union – could for instance cut transport costs by up to 40 per cent, Comesa secretary-general Sindiso Ngwenya said.

With three main modules – Transit Bonds, Risk Management and Cargo Tracking — the Comesa Virtual Trade Facilitation System (CVTFS) aims at integrating systems used by regional revenue authorities, transporters, shippers, clearing agents, ports and customs to provide real-time information and facilitate uninterrupted movement of goods across borders.

Besides tracking cargo from origin to destination, the system will facilitate management of transit bonds and capture electronic data contained in the customs seal and assign this information to customs offices at various transit points.

Comesa has already gazetted transit goods routes which have been geo-fenced and trucks following these routes will be monitored. In case seals are tampered with, owners will automatically be notified via Short Message Services (SMSs) or email. Owners who register their trucks with the system will display a ‘Comesa Transit’ plate on their vehicles.

Delays along the major transport corridors arising from lengthy procedures at weight control points and police road blocks within the region have been identified as major non-tariff barriers hindering trade.

Mr Charles Muita, a member of the team that worked on the system and who made the presentation, said they expected most of the countries where industry players do not have their own systems to quickly adopt CVTFS. “The system does not intend to replace the ones used by member countries but would integrate them to achieve a seamless flow of information and documentation,” Mr Ngwenya said during the sensitisation at the Mombasa Beach Hotel.

Truckers buy the fleet management system at Sh24,000 and pay an average of Sh2,000 management fee per month.“We are not interested in making money with the system and the initial cost of the gadget will be less than Sh12,000 and a monthly management fee of about $3 (Sh255),” explained Mr Ngwenya.

The sensitisation in Comesa member states aims at getting volunteers for a free pilot project that will run for three months starting next month. Source: Business Daily Africa.com

I post this article given it ties together many of the initiatives which I have described in previous articles. The appears to be an urgency to implement these initiatives, but the real question concerns the sub-continent’s ability to entrench the principles and maintain continuity. At regional fora its too easy for foreign ministers, trade practitioners and the various global and financial lobbies to wax lyrical on these subjects. True there is an enormous amount of interest and ‘money’ waiting to be ploughed into such programs, yet sovereign states battle with dwindling skills levels and expertise. Its going to take a lot more than talk and money to bring this about.

South Africa is championing an ambitious integration and development agenda in Southern Africa in an attempt to advance what Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies describes as trade and customs cooperation within the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other regional trade organisations.

Central to pursuing this intra-regional trade aspiration are a series of mechanisms to combine market integration and liberalisation efforts with physical cross-border infrastructure and spatial-development initiatives. Also envisaged is greater policy coordination to advance regional industrial value chains. “Trade facilitation can be broadly construed as interventions that include the provision of hard and soft infrastructure to facilitate the movement of goods, services and people across borders, with SACU remaining the anchor for wider integration in the region,” Davies explains.

This approach is also receiving support from the US Agency for International Development (USAid), which recently hosted the Southern African Trade Facilitation Conference, held in Johannesburg.

Trade programme manager Rick Gurley says that virtually every study on trade in sub- Saharan Africa identifies time and cost factors of exporting and importing as the most significant constraints to regional trade potential. Limited progress has been made by SADC member States and SACU partners to tackle the factors undermining trade-based growth, limiting product diversification and increasing the price of consumer goods, including of foodstuffs. However, far more would need to be done to realise the full potential of intra-regional trade.

Regional Alliance
One high-profile effort currently under way is the Tripartite Free Trade Area (T-FTA), which seeks to facilitate greater trade and investment harmonisation across the three existing regional economic communities of the SADC, the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa and the East African Community.

The existing SADC FTA should be fully implemented by the end of the year, with almost all tariff lines traded duty-free and, if established, the T-FTA will intergrate the markets of 26 countries with a combined population of nearly 600-million people and a collective gross domestic product (GDP) of $1-trillion. At that size and scale, the market would be more attractive to investors and could launch the continent on a development trajectory, Davies avers. It could also form the basis for a later Africa-wide FTA and a market of some $2.6-trillion.

However, as things stand today, intra- regional trade remains constrained not merely by trade restrictions but by a lack of cross-border infrastructure, as well as poor coordination and information sharing among border management agencies such as immigration, customs, police and agriculture.Cross-national connectivity between the customs management systems is also rare, often requiring the identical re-entry of customs declarations data at both sides of the border, causing costly and frustrating delays.

USAid’s regional economic growth project, the Southern African Trade Hub, is a strong proponent of the introduction of several modern trade-facilitation tools throughout the SADC – a number of which have already been successfully pioneered. These tools, endorsed by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) Framework of Standards, which offers international best-practice guidelines, are aimed at tackling the high costs of exporting and importing goods to, from, and within Southern Africa, which has become a feature of regional trade and discouraged international investment.

Bringing up the Rear
A country’s competitiveness and the effec- tiveness of its trade facilitation regime are measured by its ranking on World Bank indices and, with the exception of Mozambique, Southern African States perform poorly – with most in the region settling into the lowest global quartile of between 136 and 164, out of a total of 183. “Our transaction costs in Africa across its borders are unacceptably high and inhibit trade by our partners in the private sector,” says WCO capacity building director Erich Kieck. “We need our States to develop good ideas and policies, but the true test lies in their ability to implement them,” he notes.

He adds that not only does trade facilitation require efficient customs-to-customs connectivity, but also demands effective customs-to-business engagement, adding that, while customs units are responsible for international trade administration, they are not responsible for international trade. “The private sector is the driver of economic activity and international trade, and government’s responsibility is to understand the challenges faced by the business community and develop symbiotic solutions,” Kieck notes.

Despite the establishment of regional trade agreements and regional economic communities in Southern Africa, many partner- ships have failed to deliver on their full potential to increase domestic competitiveness.

In a report, African Development Bank (AfDB) senior planning economist Habiba Ben Barka observes that, despite the continent’s positive GDP growth record – averaging 5.4% a year between 2005 and 2010 – it has failed to improve its trading position or integration into world markets. In 2009, Africa’s contribution to global trade stood at just under 3%, compared with nearly 6% for Latin America and a significant 28% for Asia.

“Since 2000, a new pattern of trade for the continent has begun to take centre stage, as Africa has witnessed an upsurge in its trade with the emerging Brazil, Russia, India and China economies. Overall, Africa is trading more today than in the past, but that trade is more with the outside world than internally,” says Ben Barka. She adds that while many African regional economic communities have made some progress in the area of trade facilitation, much greater effort is required to harmonise and integrate sub-regional markets.

To address enduring trade barriers, consensus among business, government and trade regulators appears to lean towards the adoption of one or a combination of five facilitation tools. These include the National Single Window (NSW), the One-Stop Border Post (OSBP), cloud-based Customs Connectivity, Coordinated Border Management (CBM) and Customs Modernisation Tools.

A National Single Window
NSWs connect trade-related stakeholders within a country through a single electronic-data information-exchange platform, related to cross-border trade, where parties involved in trade and transport lodge standardised trade-related information or documents to be submitted once at a single entry point to fulfil all import, export and transit-related regulatory requirements.Mauritius was the first SADC country to implement the NSW and consequently improved its ranking on the ‘Trading Across Borders Index’ to 21 – the highest in Africa. It was closely followed by Ghana and Mozambique, which have also reported strong improvements.

Developed in Singapore, the benefits of government adoption include the reduction of delays, the accelerated clearance and release of goods, predictable application, improved application of resources and improved transparency, with several countries reporting marked improvement in trade facilitation indicators following the NSW implementation.

In South Africa, the work on trade facili-tation is led by the South African Revenue Service (SARS), which focuses on building information technology (IT) connectivity among the SACU member States, and strengthen- ing risk-management and enforcement measures. However, SARS’ approach to the NSW concept remains cautious, Davies explains. “SARS has considered the viability of this option as a possible technological support for measures to facilitate regional trade, but considers that this would fall outside the scope of its current approach and priorities in the region,” he said.

One-Stop Border Posts
As reported by Engineering News in December last year, effective OSBPs integrate the data, processes and workflows of all relevant border agencies of one country with those of another, which culminates in a standardised operating model that is predictable, trans- parent and convenient. An OSBD success story in Southern Africa is the Chirundu border post, where a collaboration between the Zambia and Zimbabwe governments has culminated in a single structure, allowing officers from both States to operate at the same location, while conducting exit and entry procedures for both countries.

Launched in 2009, this OSBP model is a hybrid of total separation, joint border operations and shared facilities in a common control zone. Implementation of the model has reduced clearance times to less than 24 hours, significantly reduced fraudulent and illegal cross-border activity, enabled increased information sharing between border agencies and reduced the overall cost of export and import activities in the area.

Earlier this year, former South African Transport Minister Sibusisu Ndebele indicated that Cabinet was looking into establishing a mechanism that would bring all border entities under a single command and control structure to address the fragmentation in the country’s border operations, particularly at the high-traffic Beitbridge post between South Africa and Zimbabwe. “The ultimate vision is to create one-stop border operations to facilitate legitimate trade and travel across the borders,” he said.

Customs Connectivity and Data Exchange
Improved connectivity between customs limbs in sub-Saharan Africa has perhaps made the most indelible strides in the region, with improved IT connectivity between States identified as a priority by Sacu.

This includes customs-to-customs inter- connectivity, customs-to-business inter- connectivity and interconnectivity between customs and other government agencies. SACU members have agreed to pursue the automation and interconnectivity of their customs IT systems to enable the timely electronic exchange of data between administrations in respect of cross-border movement of goods. “As a consequence of this acquiescence, we have identified two existing bilateral connectivity programmes as pilot projects to assess SACU’s preferred connectivity approach, cloud computing between Botswana and Namibia and IT connectivity between South Africa and Swaziland,” says SACU deputy director for trade facilitation Yusuf Daya. He adds that a regional workshop was recently convened to explore business processes, functions, data clusters and the application of infrastructure at national level to improve and develop intra-regional links.

Coordinated Border Management
The SADC has been a strong proponent of CBM efforts in the region, which promotes coordination and cooperation among relevant authorities and agencies involved in, specifically, the protection of interests of the State at borders. “The union has drafted CBM guidelines for its members on implementation, based on international best practice, and has received indications of interest from several member States,” explains SADC Customs Unit senior programme officer Willie Shumba.He adds that CBM is a key objective of regional integration, enabling the transition from an FTA to a customs union and, eventually, to a common market, through effective controls of the internal borders.

Customs Modernisation
South Africa’s customs modernisation initiative is well advanced and came about following Sars’ accession to the WCO’s revised Kyoto Convention in 2004, which required customs agencies to make significant changes to it business and processing models. These changes included the introduction of simplified procedures, which would have fundamental effects on and benefits for trade and would require a modern IT solution.

Since its inception, the SARS Customs Modernisation Programme has gained tremendous momentum, with amendments to the Passenger Processing System and the replacement of SARS’s Manifest Acquittal System in the Automated Cargo Management system. Further adjustments were made to enable greater ease of movement of goods, faster turnaround times and cost savings, as well as increased efficiency for SARS. This phase included the introduction of an electronic case-management system, electronic submission of supporting documents, the centralisation of back-end processing in four hubs and an electronic release system and measures to enhance the flow of trucks through borders – in particular at the Lebombo and Beitbridge borders.

Proper Planning
AfDB’s Ben Barka warns that, prior to the implementation of any border improvement efforts by countries in Southern Africa, a thorough analysis and mapping of each agency’s existing procedures, mandate and operations should be undertaken.“Based on these findings, a new set of joint operational procedures need to be agreed upon by all involved agencies and must comply with the highest international standards,” she says.

Development coordination between States is essential, as the largest disparity among regional groupings, in terms of intra-regional trade, is clearly attributable to their differentiated levels of progress in various areas, including the removal of tariffs and non-tariff barriers, the freedom of movement of persons across borders and the development of efficient infrastructure. Source: Engineering News.

THREE regional economic communities (Recs) have taken the lead as Africa seeks to remove trade barriers by 2017. The establishment of a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) was endorsed by African Union leaders at a summit in January to boost intra-Africa trade. Sadc, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) and the East African Community (EAC) have combined forces to establish a tripartite FTA by 2014.

Willie Shumba, a senior programmes officer at Sadc, told participants attending the second Africa Trade Forum in Ethiopia last week that the tripartite FTA would address the issue of overlapping membership, which had made it a challenge to implement instruments such as a common currency. “…overlapping membership was becoming a challenge in the implementation of instruments, for example, common currency. The TFTA is meant to reduce the challenges,” he said.

Countries such as Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Kenya have memberships in two regional economic communities, a situation that analysts say would affect the integration agenda in terms of negotiations and policy co-ordination. The TFTA has 26 members made up of Sadc (15), Comesa (19) and EAC (5). The triumvirate contributes over 50% to the continent’s US$1 trillion Gross Domestic Product and more than half of Africa’s population. The TFTA focuses on the removal of tariffs and non-tariff barriers such as border delays, and seeks to liberalise trade in services and facilitation of trade and investment.

It would also facilitate movement of business people, as well as develop and implement joint infrastructure programmes. There are fears the continental FTAs would open up the economies of small countries and in the end, the removal of customs duty would negatively affect smaller economies’ revenue generating measures.

Zimbabwe is using a cash budgeting system and revenue from taxes, primarily to sustain the budget in the absence of budgetary support from co-operating partners. Finance minister Tendai Biti recently slashed the budget to US$3,6 billion from US$4 billion saying the revenue from diamonds had been underperforming, among other factors.

Experts said a fund should be set up to “compensate” economies that suffer from the FTA. Shumba said the Comesa-Sadc-EAC FTA would create a single market of over 500 million people, more than half of the continent’s estimated total population. He said new markets, suppliers and welfare gains would be created as a result of competition. Tariffs and barriers in the form of delays have been blamed for dragging down intra-African trade.

Stephen Karingi, director at UN Economic Commission for Africa, told a trade forum last week that trade facilitation, on top on the removal of barriers, would see intra-African trade doubling. “The costs of reducing remaining tariffs are not as high; such costs have been overstated. We should focus on trade facilitation,” he said.

“If you take 11% of formal trade as base and remove the remaining tariff, there will be improvement to 15%. If you do well in trade facilitation on top of removing barriers, intra-African trade will double,” Karingi said. He said improving on trade information would save 1,8% of transaction costs. If member states were to apply an advance ruling on trade classification, trade costs would be reduced by up to 3,7%.He said improvement of co-ordination among border agencies reduces trade costs by up to 2,4%.Karingi called for the establishment of one-stop border posts.

Participants at the trade forum resolved that the implementation of the FTA be an inclusive process involving all stakeholders.They were unanimous that a cost-benefit analysis should be undertaken on the CFTA to facilitate the buy-in of member states and stakeholders for the initiative. Source: allAfrica.com

Delegates from at least 20 African Customs Administrations met in Pretoria, South Africa between 13 and 15 August to advance developments towards a common framework and approach to IT inter-connectivity and information exchange in the region. Convened by the SADC secretariat in consultation with COMESA and Trademark Southern Africa (TMSA), the three day work session focussed on uniform acceptance of the WCO‘s Globally Networked Customs (GNC) methodology, regional awareness of customs developments in the Southern and East African region, as well as joint agreement on customs data to be exchanged between the member states.

Mauritius Revenue Authority (MRA) shared its experience with delegates on the launch of its Customs Enforcement Network (CEN). Kenya Revenue Authority will soon be sharing enforcement information with its MRA counterpart. At least 22 African countries are expected to link up with the CEN network over a period of time. Customs enforcement information is the second pillar of the WCO’s GNC information exchange methodology; the first pillar being Customs information exchange. The latter provides for a holistic approach to the dissemination of common customs data derived from supply chain exchanges, for example declaration information, cargo information, and AEO information to name but a few. This information is vital for trading countries to administer advance procedures and better validate the information being provided by the trade.

Rwanda Revenue Authority introduced it’s RADDex programme which is a web-based IT solution for the exchange of cargo manifest information between participating states in the East African Community (EAC) – see related article below.

SADC and COMESA are rallying their members to participate in the initiative. At the current juncture, various member states have expressed keen interest to participate. While the regional intention is the linking of all customs administration’s electronically, initial developments envisage bi-lateral exchanges between Customs administrations which are ready to engage. The importance of the adoption of the GNC methodology is to ensure that customs connectivity and information exchange is harmonised and consistent across the Southern and East African region irrespective of whether countries are ‘early adopters’ or not.

South African Customs law provides for a seal integrity regime. This consists in provisions for the sealing of containerised sea cargo as well as sealable vehicles and trailers. These requirements have, however, not been formally introduced into operation due to the non-availability (until recently) of internal systems and cross-functional procedures that would link seal integrity to known entities. To explain this in more layman’s terms, it is little use implementing an onerous cargo sealing program without systems to perform risk assessment, validation of trader profiles and information exchange. It’s  like implementing non-intrusive inspection (X-ray scanning) equipment without backward integration into the Customs Risk Management  and Inspection environment and systems. It has often been stated that a customs or border security programme is a layered approach based on risk mitigation. None of the individual elements will necessarily address risk, and automation alone will likewise not accomplish the objective for safe and secure supply chains. Moreover, neither will measures adopted by Customs or the Border Agency succeed without due and necessary compliance on the part of entities operating the supply chain. It therefore requires a holistic strategy of people, policy, process and technology.

In the African context, it is surmised that the business rationale will be best accomplished with a dual approach on IT connectivity and information exchange. Under the political speak there are active attempts within SACU, SADC, COMESA and the EAC to establish electronic networks to facilitate and safeguard transit goods. Several African states are landlocked and are not readily accessible, some requiring multiple transit trips through countries from international discharge in the continent to place of final destination. National laws of each individual country in most instances provide obstacles to carriers achieving cost effective means in delivering cargoes. Over and above the laws, there exists (regrettably) the need to ‘grease palms’ without which safe passage in some instances  will not be granted. Notwithstanding the existence of customs unions and free trade areas, internal borders remain the biggest obstacle to facilitation.

Several African logistics operators already implement track and trace technology in the vehicle and long-haul fleets. This has the dual purpose of safeguarding their assets as well as the cargoes of their clients which they convey. Since 9/11, a few customs administrations have formally adopted ISO PAS 17712 within their legislation to regulate the use of high security seals amongst cargo handlers and carriers. In most cases this mandates the use of high security ‘mechanical’ bolt seals. However, evidence suggests there is a growing trend to adopt electronic seals. Taiwan Customs for one has gone a significant way in this regard. Through technological advances and increased commercial adoption of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology the costs are reducing significantly to warrant serious consideration as both a viable and cost-effective customs ‘control’ measure.

Supply chain custody using RFID as an identifier and physical security audit component – as provided for in ISO 17712 – is characterized by the following:

  • it uniquely identifies seals and associates them with the trader.
  • the seal’s unique identity and memory space can be used to write a digital signature, unique to a trader on the seal, and associating that seal with a customs declaration.
  • using customs trader registration/licensing information, together with infrastructure to read seal information at specified intervals along a route to create a ‘bread-crumb’ audit trail of the integrity of the cargo and conveyance.
  • using existing fleet management units installed in trucks to monitor seal integrity along the high risk legs of a cargo’s transit.
  • record the seal’s destruction at point of destination.

Looking forward to the future, it is not implausible for customs and border authorities to consider the use of RFID:

  • as a common token between autonomous customs systems.
  • to verify and audit that non-intrusion inspections have taken place en-route, and write that occurrence to the seal’s memory with the use of an updated digital signature issued to the customs inspection facility.
  • to create a date and time stamp of the cargo’s transit for compliance and profile classification – to confirm that transit goods have actually left the country as well as confirm arrival at destination (to prevent round tripping).
  • Lastly to archive a history of carrier’s activities for forensic and/or trend analysis.
This is a topic which certainly deserves more exposure in line with current regional developments on IT-connectivity and information exchange. A special word of thanks to Andy Brown for his contribution and insight to this post.
Related articles

At least two articles have surfaced within the last week calling for greater urgency towards the development of free trade areas in Africa. How much time, money and effort seem to be expended in futile trade discussions that – to the man in the street – are meaningless. One such article, appearing in the Freight & Trade Weekly (FTW) relates to a speech delivered by the South African Transport Minister imploring SADC members to fast-track an integrated border management framework to enable ‘free flow’ of trade in the region. Before pressurizing foreign countries to embrace such change it should at least be properly considered at home. For more than 15 years, South Africa has failed to implement any meaningful integrated border management of its own. Forget about the so-called economic protectionism amongst individual African countries. We have – on our own soil –an inter-departmental ‘protectionism’ which cares little for free flow of legitimate goods. Admittedly there are moves to ‘integrate’ certain frontline functions such as customs border control and immigration. This, however, still does not mitigate interference from other government agencies in tampering with ‘legitimate trade’. Each department seems hell-bent on enforcing its respective mandate regardless of consequential overlaps in activity, oblivious to the detrimental effect this has for legitimate trade. So what is ‘integrated border management’? In the context of a sovereign state it could imply one of two things:

  • A cooperative inter-departmental approach where ‘individual’ government departments perform combined interventions (according to their respective legal mandate) on people, cargo and conveyances according to a structured operational procedure and workflow; or
  • A Border Management Agency (being a single government entity) comprising the capacity to effect all immigration, customs and border control/security functions at ports of entry and exit.

Secondly, integrated border management at external borders can be further extended to include a streamlined import/export or entry/exit process to facilitate the movement of legitimate travellers, goods, and conveyances in a single transaction. This is described as a ‘one stop border’. A critical success factor here is the ability of two country’s border authorities to be able to co-locate with one another and affect a common clearance/passenger movement process. Theoretically these things are all easy to understand, but a whole lot more difficult to implement – more about this another time.

Therefore, before a successful SADC FTA can ever hope to materialise, the concept of proper risk-based inter-departmental control must be embedded and administered within a home country before attempting a bi- or multilateral initiative. The article “SADC must implement integrated border management” can be found on page 17, of the 28 October 2011 issue of the FTW.