WCO shares good practices for drafting a rules of origin tool with the AfCFTA

At the invitation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat, the World Customs Organization (WCO) gave a presentation on international standards for the drafting of tools and instruments on rules of origin at a virtual workshop on the drafting of the AfCFTA Rules of Origin Handbook held on Monday 21 February 2022. 

In her welcoming address, the Chairperson of the Sub-Committee on Rules of Origin expressed her profound gratitude and thanks to the AfCFTA’s partner organizations, such as the WCO and UNCTAD, as well as to the Regional Economic Communities (COMESA, EAC, ECOWAS and the SADC) which had kindly accepted the invitation to share their experience of drafting rules of origin handbooks.

She reminded those taking part that Article 8.3 of the Agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area laid down that any additional instruments, within the scope of that Agreement, deemed necessary, are to be concluded in furtherance of the objectives of the AfCFTA and will, upon adoption, form an integral part of the Agreement. In accordance with Article 13 of the Protocol on Trade in Goods, discussions among the negotiating bodies had led to the adoption of Annex 2 on Rules of Origin and of close to 88% of the tariff lines constituting Annex IV. She also emphasized that both of those legal documents on rules of origin had to be made operational through the use of the Rules of Origin Handbook.

With a view to the implementation of Annex 2 on Rules of Origin of the AfCFTA Protocol on Trade in Goods, she went on to stress that the 8th Meeting of the Council of Ministers, held on 28 January 2022, had decided that the work on drafting the AfCFTA’s Rules of Origin Handbook had to be given priority.

Accordingly, under Item 3 on the Agenda, the WCO gave a talk on the drafting of rules of origin handbooks, presenting some practical cases that explained the international standards applied in drawing up its tools. There was then a question-and-answer session in which the delegates from Customs administrations, trade and industry were able to have a fuller exchange on the subject of good practices on which the AfCFTA could draw in finalizing the drafting of the Rules of Origin Handbook.

The workshop was attended by more than 150 delegates, for whom it was an opportunity to learn more about good practices in relation to the drafting of operational handbooks on rules of origin, with a view to making proposals for improvements to the AfCFTA handbook, on the basis, too, of the experiences of the WCO, UNCTAD and the African RECs.

The workshop came before the 5th Meeting of the Sub-Committee on Rules of Origin to be held from 22 to 25 February 2022, at which the handbook in question would have to be drawn up in order to facilitate the implementation of AfCFTA rules of origin and thereby boost intra-African trade.

Source: WCOOMD, 24 February 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

30th anniversary of the Harmonized System (HS) – a universal language for international trade

HS_30_GalleryThe Harmonized System (HS) allows a world of many languages to speak with one. A multipurpose nomenclature for trade, the HS is one of the most successful instruments developed by the World Customs Organization. Its Convention has 156 Contracting Parties and the HS is used by more than 200 countries, territories and Customs or Economic Unions. It forms the basis for Customs tariffs and statistical nomenclatures around the world, and is used for around 98% of world trade. The year 2018 marks the 30thAnniversary of the HS which came into effect on 1stJanuary, 1988.

As an international standard with global application, the HS plays a key role in facilitating world trade. The HS is used as the basis for:

  • Customs tariffs;
  • Trade policies and quota controls;
  • Collection of international trade statistics and data exchange;
  • Rules of origin;
  • Trade negotiations such as the WTO Information Technology Agreement and Free Trade Agreements;
  • Monitoring of controlled goods, for example, chemical weapons precursors, hazardous wastes and persistent organic pollutants, ozone depleting substances and endangered species;
  • Many Customs controls and procedures, including risk assessments and profiling, electronic data input and matching and compliance activities; and Economic research and analysis..

The HS is crucial to the development of global trade. It is also fundamental to achieving fair, efficient, and effective revenue collection, a primary Strategic Goal of the WCO. In addition, as it provides an essential tool for the simplification and harmonization of customs procedures and provides the basis of knowing what trade goods are crossing borders, it contributes to other major strategic goals of Customs administrations and of the WCO.

The HS is a living language. The HS is now in it’s 6th edition and in the process of preparing for the Seventh Edition of the HS (HS 2022). During the life of the HS, there have been 60 meetings of the Harmonized System Committee (HSC) where 4,144 agenda items were discussed, 10 Recommendations were produced concerning the application of the HS Convention, 2280 classification decisions made and 871 Classification Opinions adopted to ensure the harmonization of classification. On 1st of January 2018, Members can be congratulated on having worked through the 60 HSC meetings, 53 meetings of the Review Sub-Committee (RSC) and 32 meetings of the Scientific Sub-Committee (SSC) to maintain and update the HS to keep it responsive and relevant to current needs.

On the occasion of this anniversary, the WCO calls for the international Customs community, in partnership with the international trade community, to continue to be proactive and pursue its efforts to develop and maintain the HS, especially in terms of the application and uniform interpretation of the HS, so as to safeguard and further grow the benefits of this success. Source: WCO, 3 January 2018.

WCO issues New Guide for the Technical Update of Preferential Rules of Origin

SARS R78 million Airport Cash BustIn order to assist Members with the updating of their existing Rules of Origin in relation to changes in the Harmonized System, the WCO has issued the “Guide for the technical update of Preferential Rules of Origin“. The Guide is available for WCO Members only.

Classification and origin determination of goods are closely interlinked. It is therefore critically important to update Rules of Origin (i.e. Product Specific Rules) to ensure consistency between HS classification and origin determination. This would help to prevent misapplication of Rules of Origin, ensure efficient and effective revenue collection and facilitate trade. Source: WCO

Mauritius – Customs Training of Trainers Course on SADC Rules Of Origin

The SADC Rules of Origin are the cornerstone of the SADC intra-trade and serve to prevent non-SADC members benefiting from preferential tariffs. The determination of the eligibility of products to SADC origin and the granting of preferential tariffs to goods originating in the Member States is an important process in the implementation of the SADC Protocol on Trade and regional integration. Annex I of the SADC Protocol on Trade provide that goods shall be accepted as eligible for preferential treatment within the SADC market if they originate in the member States, and the qualification of such products shall be as provided in Appendix I of Annex I of the Protocol on Trade.

The 2nd Customs Training of Trainer Course was held on the SADC Rules of Origin at the World Customs Organization (WCO) Multilingual Regional Training Centre, Mauritius Revenue Authority from the 25th -30th November 2013. The objective of the training course is to establish a pool of trainers on the SADC Rules of Origin who can provide guidance and train on the subject at national level to Customs officials and relevant Stakeholders.

During his opening address, Mr Sudamo Lall, Director General of the Mauritius Revenue Authority, laid emphasis on the critical importance of the ‘Rules of Origin’ as it has ‘great impact on the duties to be collected, as businesses increasingly locate the different stages of their activities in a way that optimizes their value-addition chain’. On the other hand Mr James Lenaghan Director Customs mentioned that ‘the Rules of Origin in any Free Trade Area are of prime importance as they serve to determine which goods can benefit from preferential tariffs. This enables member states of a particular Free Trade Area to benefit from the tariffs advantages inherent to the Protocol of trade agreed within that Free Trade Area. Since Customs is the controlling agency for preferential origin, it is vital that our officers are trained to correctly apply the SADC Rules of Origin’.

During their short visit at the training workshop, the Executive Secretary ,Dr Stergomena Tax and the WCO Secretary General, Mr Kunio Mukiriya addressed the group on the importance of rules of origin as the basis for regional integration. Dr. Tax also urged the participants from all SADC Member States to cascade the knowledge gained at the Centre to their respective countries.

The SADC Customs Training of Trainers programme is being implemented in collaboration with the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Regional Office for Capacity Building (ROCB), the WCO Regional Training Centres and GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). Source: SADC Secretariat

Capacity Building in SADC

Participants in the Customs Training of Trainers Programme at SARS Academy, Pretoria, South Africa

Participants in the Customs Training of Trainers Programme at SARS Academy, Pretoria, South Africa (Picture: SADC)

The SADC Customs Training of Trainers Programme 2013-2015 was initiated recently from 26-30 August 2013 on ‘Communication and Facilitation Skills’ at the South African Revenue Service (SARS) Academy, Pretoria, South Africa. The objective of the training was to give the trainers the necessary skills and expertise to teach Customs officials and stakeholders in an effective and professional way.  The training was attended by forty (40) participants from 14 SADC Member States.

The SADC Customs Training of Trainers Programme 2013-2015 was approved by the Sub Committee on Customs Cooperation (SCCC) in May 2013. The main objective of the programme is to provide technical and professional support to the implementation of the SADC Protocol on Trade, particularly in view of the contribution of Customs Administrations to the successful implementation and consolidation of the SADC FTA. It is therefore meant to support implementation of agreed instruments and programmes under the SADC Protocol on Trade.

The programme is being in collaboration with the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Regional Office for Capacity Building (ROCB),the Regional Training Centres and GIZ. The first Customs technical training under this programme will be on the SADC Rules of Origin in November 2013 with the objective to establish a poll of trainers on the subject in the region. Source: SADC Secretariat

GSP – Good news for developing countries

The European Commission adopted a regulation revising rules of origin for products imported under the generalised system of preferences (GSP). This regulation relaxes and simplifies rules and procedures for developing countries wishing to access the EU’s preferential trade arrangements, while ensuring the necessary controls are in place to prevent fraud.

The Regulation adopted by the Commission today will considerably simplify the rules of origin so that they are easier for developing countries to understand and to comply with. The new rules take into account the specificities of different sectors of production and particular processing requirements, amongst other things. In addition, special provisions are included for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) which would allow them to claim origin for many more goods which are processed in their territories, even if the primary materials do not originate there. For instance, an operator in Zambia that produces and exports plastics to the EU will benefit from the new rules of origin, because even with up to 70% of foreign input the exported plastics can still be considered as originating from Zambia. These new rules should greatly benefit the industries and economies of the world’s poorest countries.

The proposal also puts forward a new procedure for demonstrating proof of origin, which places more responsibility on the operators. From 2017, the current system of certification of origin carried out by the third country authorities will be replaced by statements of origin made out directly by exporters registered via an electronic system. This will allow the authorities of the exporting country to re-focus their resources on better controls against fraud and abuse, while reducing red-tape for businesses. The new rules of origin will apply from 1 January 2011.

For more information on the new proposal please check: http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/index_en.htm