AfCFTA – Why regional support is crucial for effective implementation

Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Secretariat

In order to support the implementation processes of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, Regional Economic Communities (RECs) need to make informed choices about how to reap the benefits presented by the agreement, while at the same time managing the challenges that may be encountered in the course of the implementation. 

Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Secretariat, stressed this Tuesday, June 7, on the occasion of the second coordination meeting of the CEOs of RECs, on the implementation of the AfCFTA held at the EAC Headquarters, in Arusha, Tanzania.

The meeting sought to take stock of the progress made since the last meeting in Accra in 2021.

The role of the continent’s eight RECs is critical especially as the latter are building blocks for the AfCFTA.

Mene said the implementation of the AfCFTA will likely influence future trade policies of the RECs. 

“In this regard, effective collaboration between the RECs and the AfCFTA Secretariat is necessary to ensure that the AfCFTA outcomes are consistent with regional advancements in trade integration made thus far and the projections for the future,” Mene said.

“Therefore, the coordination meetings offer us an opportunity to listen to one another, to better understand our areas of difference, and to work together to build consensus around common positions critical to our success at creating an African Economic Community.”

African leaders mandated the AfCFTA Secretariat, the African Union Commission, and the RECs to develop a framework of collaboration to enhance complementarity, synergies, and alignment of programmes and activities to facilitate the effective implementation of the AfCFTA. The negotiation of the AfCFTA is now in phase two which covers investments, intellectual property rights, women and youth in Trade competition policy and digital trade. 

It is Mene’s strong conviction that by agreeing on a workable framework which will strengthen the interdependence of RECs on the one hand, and strengthen the cooperation between RECs and the AfCFTA Secretariat on the other hand, “we will be taking steps critical to the success of the AfCFTA.”

“We have already received instructions from the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union to take all necessary steps to ensure the effective implementation of the AfCFTA, including facilitating commercially meaningful flow of goods and services under the AfCFTA preferential regime, across the continent. We were also instructed to develop a coordinated approach to the implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement, with the existing RECs as building blocks.”

Peter Mathuki, the EAC Secretary-General, noted that Africa is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, but trade in goods and services accounts for an estimated 3% of global exports and imports on average. 

As noted, the share of Intra African trade remains low: on average, 13% for intra-imports and 20% for intra-exports, while ExtraAfrican trade accounts for more than 80% of the total trade. Africa’s exports to the rest of the world consist of raw materials, such as oil, gas, minerals, and agricultural commodities, with little to no value addition.

Mathuki said: “There are many reasons why intra-Africa trade is low; these include differences in trade regimes (8 AU recognised RECs), inadequacies of trade-related infrastructure (poor intermodal connectivity), trade finance and trade information. 

“Other constraints are customs, administrative and technical barriers, limited productive capacity, lack of factor market integration and inadequate focus on internal market issues.”

With a market of around 1.3 billion consumers and a GDP of $ 3.4 trillion, Mathuki reiterated, AfCFTA will unlock many opportunities in the continent and redesign the architectural framework of its economic systems. 

“The eight AU recognised RECs are the official pillars of the African Economic Community (AEC) set out in the Abuja Treaty establishing the AEC. The RECs play a critical role in coordinating and submitting REC tariff offers, schedules, and commitments on trade in services and are fully involved in negotiations on outstanding issues,” Mathuki said.

“Active engagement and input from the private sector and interest groups at the national and REC level are needed to shape the AfCFTA trade regime and resolve challenges ahead.”

Amb. Liberata Mulamula, Tanzania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said her country commends the initiative of establishing collaboration between the AfCFTA and RECs towards implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement. 

“Tanzania as a member of EAC Customs Union has ratified the AfCFTA agreement and is also a member of SADC and EAC. In order to have a meaningful implementation of the agreement, the United Republic of Tanzania needs to align its participation in the AfCFTA to that of the RECs as its member.”

“I am confident that this framework will underpin the interface between the AfCFTA and RECs Free Trade Area and laydown actionable policy proposals that would assist in ensuring coherent, coordinated and fully responsive collaboration between the AfCFTA and RECs.”

Source: The New Times, 8 June 2022

When will the AfCFTA be customs-ready?

Picture: Grayomm @ Unsplash.com

The negotiations to finalise the tariff schedules and rules of origin (RoO) of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) are taking place during the last two weeks of January 2022. Senior Trade Officials (STOs) and the AfCFTA Council of Ministers (COM) will then meet to confirm the results or to decide the outstanding issues. Once the State Parties have agreed on the content of these important Annexes to the AfCFTA Protocol on Trade in Goods, they must be adopted. This is the responsibility of the African Union (AU) Assembly.[1]

Trade in goods under AfCFTA preferences can then begin among the State Parties presently trading with each other under most-favoured-nation (MFN) rates. (Non-State Parties will first have to accede to the AfCFTA Agreement in terms of Article 23 of the AfCFTA Agreement.)

Those State Parties that are members of Regional Economic Community (REC) Free Trade Areas (FTAs), Customs Unions (CUs) and other trade arrangements will continue to trade under existing preferential arrangements.

Article 19(2) AfCFTA Agreement provides that

“… State Parties that are members of other regional economic communities, regional trading arrangements and custom unions, which have attained among themselves higher levels of regional integration than under this Agreement, shall maintain such higher levels among themselves”.

Article 8(2) of the Protocol on Trade in Goods adds the following:

“… State Parties that are members of other RECs, which have attained among themselves higher levels of elimination of customs duties and trade barriers than those provided for in this Protocol, shall maintain, and where possible improve upon, those higher levels of trade liberalisation among themselves”. 

However, there is also the practical requirement that the AfCFTA regime must be “customs ready”. It means that the tariff books of individual State Parties and of CUs such as the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), and presumably the East African Community (EAC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), need to be updated. AfCFTA columns will have to be added to these tariff books in order to ensure the new preferences will be enjoyed when customs officials and border control agencies clear goods under this new trade arrangement.

The updating of a tariff book normally happens through national legislative procedures such as the promulgation of a Government Gazette. Customs and other border officials can only act in terms of domestic legal instruments granting them the necessary powers. Trade agreements are not self-executing.[2]

The importation and exportation of goods entail detail procedures involving customs clearance. Customs clearance is the procedure of procuring permission, through its customs authority, to either take goods out of its territory (export) or have goods enter its territory (import). Failure to provide the correct paperwork will mean that goods cannot clear customs and enter the market of the country of destination.

The customs authority of a country is the administrative agency responsible for collecting tariffs and for controlling the flow of goods into and out of a country. Depending on local legislation and regulations, the import or export of some goods may be restricted or forbidden, and the customs agency enforces these rules. The customs authority is different from the immigration authority, which monitors persons who leave or enter the country, checking for appropriate documentation, apprehending people wanted by international arrest warrants, and impeding the entry of others deemed dangerous to the country. A customs duty is a tariff or tax on the importation or exportation of goods.

The approach taken by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) is to improve the security of borders, without unduly hindering legitimate international trade. The WCO initiative focusses on the entire international trade supply chain, rather than restricting customs’ interest to that aspect of the international trade transaction, when goods move across a border. The basic principle underpinning its work is to create an international mechanism for Customs Administrations to gain access to relevant information relating to international trade well in advance, for the purposes of risk management and risk assessment.[3]

The AfCFTA is a free trade agreement (FTA). This is an agreement between States that removes tariffs and other restrictions on goods which are traded between the State Parties, according to the applicable RoO. The main difference between a customs union and a free trade agreement is that even where zero (or reduced) tariffs are part of an FTA, extra bureaucracy is needed to take advantage of those tariffs. Exporting under an FTA means companies have to comply with a complex set of rules (known as preferential rules of origin) to prove that goods only come from countries who have signed up to the FTA and that such goods have been produced or manufactured in accordance with the applicable RoO. For a customs union, once the common external tariff has been paid for a product then it is in “free circulation”. Traders only have to prove the common external tariff has been paid on goods or parts they have used. This is easier to demonstrate than proving the origin of imported goods.

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


[1] Art 22 AfCFTA Agreement.

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

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

What drives regional economic integration? Lessons from Maputo Development Corridor and North-South Corridor

ECDPM - SAIIAThis study is part of the ECDPM-SAIIA project on the Political Economy of Regional Integration in Southern Africa (PERISA). The PERISA project aims to inform and facilitate dialogue on the political economy drivers of regional integration in Southern Africa. It focuses particularly on the role of South Africa in this process with a view to better informing relations between the European Union and South Africa. Regional economic integration is essential for Africa’s development. While integration is taking place across the continent, it is not happening at the pace and the scope that the institutional architects in the Regional Economic Communities and their member states have agreed upon. Southern Africa is no exception. In looking for answers as to what obstructs or what drives regional integration, this study focuses on one particular type of integration process: cross-border transport corridors.

All Regional Economic Communities in Southern Africa have embraced transport corridors (also referred to as Spatial Development Initiatives) as key development tools. Adopting a corridor approach means engaging with a wide range of actors with different interests and influence along key transport routes that link neighbouring countries and ports. This includes the full range of government agencies that control borders for security, revenue collection, and regulatory purposes as well as infrastructure, transport, trade and economic ministries as well as a range of private sector actors from small-scale informal traders and producers to transporters and major international investors as well as port, rail and road operators.

The analysis focuses on the North-South Corridor and the Maputo Development Corridor. The North-South Corridor links Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Durban in South Africa through Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. The Maputo Development Corridor links Gauteng Province in South Africa to Maputo in Mozambique. The analytical focus is on South Africa and Mozambique, while from the multi-country North-South Corridor the focus in this paper is on Zambia, a potential key beneficiary of the initiative. Source: ECDPM.org

Visiting the WCO’s Strategic Plan

Reality Check

The ongoing global financial and economic crisis affects governments,  organisations and citizens in different ways. It would seem that no individual or any organisation has the proverbial ‘silver bullet’ to normalise the situation either. Today, probably most Customs and Border agencies are undergoing ‘modernisation’ or some form of restructuring. Modernisation in itself implies automation or digitization of information changing the lives of the average customs (border) official as well as the expectations and predictability of service to traders and trade intermediaries around the world. 9/11 forever changed the role of Customs and for most of governments, border regulatory authorities as well. Changes in Customs have since been focussed on alignment to policy, standards and guidelines as advocated by the WCO.

WCO Startegic PlanNational adoption of these remains the foremost critical step in establishing a country’s ability to ‘connect’ with the world. A national administration should seek inclusivity of its trading community lest its modernisation be regarded as self-serving. Simultaneously, regional economic communities also seek radical change, albeit on a regionalisation level. Pressures on national (sovereign) nations develop given high-level political commitment to regionalisation, often without taking into account their respective countries’ state of readiness. This creates a false sense of commitment which results in regional failures. Behind such regional initiatives are normally a host of sponsors, purportedly with the right experts and solutions to rectify the ‘barriers’ which prevent a national state from integrating with its neighbours and global partners. Sound familiar? If so, it wouldn’t do national representatives any harm to refresh themselves with the under mentioned WCO tools and validate this in relation to the direction which their organisation is headed. These form part of the WCO’s Customs’ in the 21st Century Agenda. It is also recommended reading for the various regional economic communities (RECs) – here I refer to the African continent – who are not always au fait or fully appraised on the ‘readiness’ landscape of the member states they represent.

The Economic Competitiveness Package (ECP) (Click the hyperlink for more information) is currently a matter of high priority at the World Customs Organization (WCO). Economic competitiveness starts with trade facilitation and Customs administrations undeniably play an important role in this respect. Indeed, facilitating trade is one of the WCO’s key objectives and the Organization has contributed, through its tools and instruments as well as through technical assistance, to increasing the economic competitiveness and growth of Members.

The Revenue Package (RP) (Click the hyperlink for more information) was developed by the World Customs Organization (WCO) in response to WCO Members’ concerns in regard to falling revenue returns in the light of the global financial crisis and declining duty rates.

Significant progress has been made since the adoption of the WCO Capacity Building Strategy in 2003. However, new and emerging key strategic drivers impact on international trade and the roles and responsibilities of Customs administrations. This requires that all our capacity building efforts remain responsive and needs-driven to ensure beneficiary Customs administrations can obtain the support they need to pursue their reform and modernization. This Organisational Development Package (ODP) (Click the hyperlink for more information) outlines the basic approach of the WCO towards organizational development. It provides a simple and accessible overview of the texts, tools and instruments that relate to this topic. It refers and offers access to these resources but does not purport to capture all knowledge and practices within this extensive area.

The Compliance and Enforcement Package (CEP) (Click the hyperlink for more information) has been developed in order to assist Members to address the high-risk areas for Customs enforcement. The Customs in the 21st Century Strategy calls on Customs administrations to implement modern working methods and techniques. In this context, Customs should be equipped with the necessary tools that allow it to effectively manage supply chain risks and enforce laws and regulations in cases of non-compliance. In discharging this mandate, the WCO, in close co-operation with Members, has created an extensive library of instruments, tools, guidance materials and operational co-ordination activities to support Customs compliance and enforcement actions. These tools new form part of the CEP.

 

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 →

AU considers continental Customs Connectivity

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.