WCO – Sub-Saharan Africa Customs Modernization Programme Newsletter

WCO Sub-Saharan Customs Modernisation Programme NewsletterHerewith a new newsletter informing about developments of Capacity Building Projects in Sub- Saharan African Customs Unions as sponsored by the government of Sweden. The project includes the WCO- EAC CREATE Project, the WCO- WACAM Project, The SACU Connect Project and the WCO INAMA Project.

With this newsletter we share with you updates about ongoing activities as well as an outlook for the events of the upcoming months. Click this hyperlink to download the newsletter.

Whilst this newsletter can only provide a snapshot of key developments, it may raise your awareness and encourage you to address us for more detailed publications or to contact us. Source: WCO

Mobile Money Services across Africa and Middle East get a leg up

Residents transfer money using the M-Pesa banking service at a store in Nairobi, Kenya

Residents transfer money using the M-Pesa banking service at a store in Nairobi, Kenya

Nine mobile network operators across 48 countries in Africa and the Middle East have joined forces on the GSM Association’s Mobile Money Interoperability (MMI) program. The program aims to develop standards and implement convenient and affordable financial services across the regions, where many citizens have limited access to traditional banking services.

Mobile money transactions in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East totaled US$5.7 billion last year, and more than a quarter of Kenya’s economy now flows through groundbreaking service M-Pesa – which has been adopted by 56 percent of Kenyans since its introduction by Vodafone and Safaricom in 2007 – without touching a bank account. (Comment: over time, me thinks cross-border enforcement authorities will scrutinise such schemes).

But while Kenya stands as an exemplar of mobile money, far ahead of even the US in usage of payments through a mobile phone, other countries have been much slower to adopt the model – thanks in part to regulatory challenges that hold back innovation. There’s hope that this MMI program will accelerate growth through collaborative development of best practice guidelines, regulatory support, performance benchmarks, and interoperability between services.

It could have widespread implications, as an estimated 1.7 billion people in lower to middle income countries own a mobile phone (primarily with prepaid credit), yet currently lack access to the financial services taken for granted in the developed world. Mobile money is now available in most developing markets, although the 2013 GSMA Mobile Money for the Unbanked State of the Industry report indicates that services tend to be limited outside of East Africa.

That’s where MMI comes in. The initiative is meant to connect mobile network operators with banks, governments, and other partners in a bid to allow access to more mobile financial services for a broader range of people. This would provide a means for them to take out insurance, invest in savings accounts, make and accept payments, and send money across borders.

Explosive growth in the field has seen mobile money accounts outnumber bank accounts in nine African markets, with 98 million registered and over 60 million active in Sub-Saharan Africa as of June 2013. Competition is also growing – 52 countries (36 of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa) have at least two mobile money services, and 27 of those have three or more. This could lead to accelerated innovation, but without interoperability it will devolve into a total mess.

Figure from the GSMA 2013 State of the Industry report on mobile money for the unbanked showing the number of registered and active mobile money accounts by region.

Most existing mobile money services act as closed-loop systems wherein electronic money must be converted to cash before it can be sent to someone on another mobile money service. But cooperation within and across regions should soon see these kinds of barriers disappear in favor of interconnected schemes that seamlessly (no doubt with some transaction fees) transfer funds from one service to another at the press of a button.

“Mobile money is a young industry, with over 80 percent of all deployments launched during or after 2010,” said GSMA Director General Anne Bouverot. It’s a field under rapid, enthusiastic, unparalleled growth, and it falls now on the signees of the Mobile Money Interoperability program to steer the ship to safe waters as mobile money races toward ubiquity across all of Africa and the Middle East. Source: GMSA

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World Bank Mobilises Record Support for Africa

world-bank-logoThe World Bank Group committed a record US$14,7 billion in the 2013 fiscal year to support economic growth and better development prospects in Africa despite uncertain economic conditions in the rest of the global economy.

“The continent has shown remarkable resilience in the face of a global recession and continues to grow strongly,” said Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region. “Africa is at the centre of the World Bank Group 2030 goals of ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity, in an environmentally, socially, and fiscally sustainable manner.”

The World Bank approved US$8,25 billion in new lending for nearly 100 projects for the 2013 fiscal year. These commitments include a record US$8,2 billion in zero-interest credits and grants from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries. This is the highest level of new IDA commitments by any region in the Bank’s history.

International Finance Corporation’s (division of the World Bank) total commitment volume in Sub-Saharan Africa, including mobilisation, grew to a record US$5,3 billion, 34% more than the year before. Similarly, IFC’s spending on Advisory Services programmes in the region increased to more than US$65 million, about 30% of IFC’s total. Supporting developmentally beneficial foreign direct investment into Sub-Saharan Africa is a priority for the bank in 2013.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for “What Happened to the Portcullis?“. A special thanks to everyone who has browsed regularly, commented or contributed to this blog. I am deeply grateful and appreciative! Mike

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 52,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 12 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Customs Modernisation – positive impact on Doing Business in South Africa!

South Africa ranks 39th out of 185 countries surveyed in the latest International Finance Corporation (IFC)-World Bank ‘Doing Business’ report, which was published on Tuesday.Last year, South Africa ranked 35 out of 183 countries assessed.

The country is placed above Qatar and below Israel in the Doing Business 2013 report, which covers issues such as starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, accessing credit, protecting investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.

Singapore remains at the top of the ease-of-doing-business ranking for the seventh consecutive year, followed by Hong Kong and New Zealand. Poland improved the most in making it easier to do business, by implementing four regulatory reforms in the past year.

South Africa led the pack in terms of improving in the ease of trading across borders through its customs modernisation programme, which reduced the time, cost and documents required for international trade. “We hope that through the streamlining of procedures, we will see the growth of commerce in the country,” said coauthor of the report Santiago Croci Downes.

The Doing Business 2013 report stated that improvements in South Africa have effects throughout Southern Africa. “Since overseas goods to and from Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe transit through South Africa, traders in these economies are also enjoying the benefits,” it stated.

Another 21 economies also implemented reforms aimed at making it easier to trade across borders in the past year. Trading across borders remains the easiest in Singapore, while it is the most difficult in Uzbekistan.

Out of the 185 economies assessed in the 2013 report, South Africa ranked 53rd for starting a business, 39th for dealing with construction permits, 79th for registering property, 10th for protecting investors, 32nd for paying taxes, 82nd for enforcing contracts and 84th for resolving insolvency.

The country ranked low, at 150, for ease of access to electricity, while it tied at the top with the UK and Malaysia for ease of access to credit. Croci Downes added that it was still too early to tell whether the recent labour unrest in the mining and transport industries would have an impact on South Africa’s ranking or on foreign direct investment .

Meanwhile, the IFC and World Bank reported that of the 50 economies making the most improvement in business regulation for domestic firms since 2005, 17 were in sub-Saharan Africa.

From June 2011 to June 2012, 28 of 46 governments in sub-Saharan Africa implemented at least one regulatory reform making it easier to do business – a total of 44 reforms.

Mauritius and South Africa were the only African economies among the top 40 in the global ranking. World Bank global indicators and analysis director Augusto Lopez-Claros said Doing Business was about smart business regulations, not necessarily fewer regulations. “We are very encouraged that so many economies in Africa are among the 50 that have made the most improvement since 2005 as captured by the Doing Business indicators.”

IFC human resources director Oumar Seydi added that lower costs of business registrations encouraged entrepreneurship, while simpler business registrations translated to greater employment opportunities in the formal sector.

“Business reforms in Africa will continue to have a strong impact on geopolitical stability. We encourage governments to go beyond their rankings. Ranking does matter, and competition is important, but that is not all that counts. What truly matters is how reforms are positively impacting growing economies,” he said.

African economies that have improved the most since 2005 include Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Angola, Mauritius, Madagascar, Mozambique, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Niger, Nigeria, and São Tomé and Príncipe. Source: http://www.polity.org.za

Most African countries to be middle income by 2025?

As many as 38 of sub-Saharan Africa’s 48 countries could be regarded as ‘middle income’ by 2025, but World Bank chief economist for Africa Shantayanan Devarajan warned that such an advancement would not necessarily translate into a reduction in poverty. Currently, 21 countries, collectively with 400-million citizens, have middle-income status, which the World Bank defines as countries with yearly per-capita income levels of higher than $1 000.

Speaking following the release of the October edition of the bank’s ‘Africa Pulse’ publication, Devarajan noted that at least ten countries, representing 200-million people, were poised to transition to middle-income status over the coming 13 years on the back of prevailing growth rates. Included in the list are countries such as Zimbabwe and Comoros, which would require both growth and stablisation.

Over the past 15 years, the continent had expanded at a rate of two percentage points better than the average global growth rate, and the bank was still expecting sub-Saharan Africa to expand by 4.8% in 2012 – excluding slow-growing South Africa, the region’s largest economy, average growth for the region was forecast at closer to 6% for the year.

But there was potential for a further seven countries, with 70-million citizens, to be included in the middle-income mix over the period if rates of growth accelerated beyond levels achieved over the past 15 years. Only ten African countries, representing 230-million people, almost certainly will not achieve middle-income status by 2025.

But while Africa’s recent growth spurt had resulted in the first overall reversal in the continent’s poverty rate since the 1970s – from 58% in 1999 to 47.5% in 2008 – the bank cautioned that continued progress would depend on continued macroeconomic prudence and improved governance, particularly in the area of natural resources.

Africa Pulse showed that resource-rich countries had seen a strengthening of economic growth, while poverty rates and inequality levels had not performed as impressively. “Some countries, such as Angola, Republic of Congo and Gabon have actually witnessed an increase in the percent of the population living in extreme poverty.”

“Resource-rich African countries have to make the conscious choice to invest in better health, education, and jobs, and less poverty for their people because it will not happen automatically when countries strike it rich,” Devarajan said. “Gabon, for example, with a per-capita income of $10 000 has one of the lowest child immunisation rates in Africa.”

To ensure that the benefits of rising growth were “pro poor”, more jobs would need to be created. And, in the context of high levels of informal sector employment, efforts would also need to be made to improve access to finance and skills, in the informal sector. Source: Engineeringnews.co.za


Thick Borders – Thin Trade

It’s quite amazing the number of reports featured in various african media across the continent pushing the ‘free trade’ agenda. The incumbent governments on the other hand are naturally concerned with dwindling tax collections, while at the same time increasing incidents of graft, collusion, and corruption run rampant at the border. While the following article states the obvious, unfortunately, nowhere will you find or read a practical approach which deals with increased ‘automation’ at borders and the consequential re-distribution of ‘bodies’ to other forms of gainful employment. Its jobs that will be on the line. Few governments wish to taunt their electorates – non-essential jobs are a fact of life and are destined to stay if that is what will earn votes and a further term in power. Moreover, there is no question of removing internal borders with the emphasis on costly ‘One-Stop Border’ facilities. To some extent the international donor community won’t mind this as there’s at least some profit and influence in it for them.

Poverty in Sub- Saharan Africa is a man-made phenomenon driven by internal warped policies and international trade systems. The continent cannot purport to seek to grow while it blocks the movement of goods and services through tariff regimes at the same time Tariff and non-tariff barriers contribute to inefficient delivery systems, epileptic cross-border trading and thriving of illicit/contraband goods.

This ultimately harms the local and regional economy. Delays at ports of delivery, different working hours and systems of control across the continent, unnecessary police roadblocks and poor infrastructure condemn countries to prisons of inter-regional and intra-regional trade poverty.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, removal of internal trade barriers would lead to US$25 billion per year of intra-regional exports in Africa, an increase by 15,4 percent by 2022. Making African border points crossings more trade efficient would increase intra-regional trade by 22 percent come 2020. Trade barriers in East Africa Community alone increase the cost of doing business by 20 percent to 40 percent.

Such barriers include the number of roadblocks within each country, cross- border charges for trucks and weighing of transit vehicles on several points on highways. Kenya is grappling to reduce the number of its roadblocks from 36 to five and Tanzania from 30 to 15. Sub-Saharan Africa records an average port delay of 12 days compared to seven days in Latin America and less than four days in Europe. Africa is lagging behind!

In West Africa, Ghanaian exports to Nigeria are faced with informal payments and delays as the goods transit across the country borders whether there is proper documentation. In the Great Lakes Region, an exporter is faced with 17 agencies at the border between Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo each with a separate monetary charge sheet.

A South African retail chain Shoprite reportedly pays up to US$20 000 a week on permits to sell products in Zambia. Each Shoprite truck is accompanied with 1 600 documents in order to get its export loads across a Southern African Development Community border. Tariff and non-tariff barriers simply thicken the wall that traps Africans in economic poverty.

The new African Union chair should push for urgent steps to lower barriers to trade within Africa. Border control agencies need retraining and border country governments need to integrate their processes; long truck queues waiting to cross border points should not be used as an indicator of efficiency.

If it takes a loaded truck one hour to cover 100 kilometres; a four-hour wait at the border increases the distance to destination to another 400 kilometres. Increased distance impacts on the prices of goods at the retail end hence limiting access to products to majority of Africans. Limited access translates to less freedom of choice — similar to a locked up criminal prisoner.

With modern technology, goods should be declared at point of origin and point of receipt. Border points should simply have scanners to verify the content of containers. Protectionism, tariffs and non-tariff barriers within the continent sustains African market orientation towards former colonisers.

African entrepreneurs are subjected to longer travel schedules due to constant police checks and slow border processes. To fight poverty on the continent, African people would benefit from an African Union Summit that resolves to facilitate efficiency in movement of goods and services. Efficient delivery systems on the continent will tackle challenges of food insecurity, poor health care, conflicts and further promote diversified economies arising from competitive healthy trading amongst and between African nations.

Elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade will provide an opportunity for African entrepreneurs to adequately take their rightful places as relevant players in the global trade system. It is imperative that African countries re-orient their strategies to promote productivity by reviewing tariffs that hold back entrepreneurs from accessing the continent’s market. This calls for both a competitive spirit and a sense of integrated tariff and process compromise if the continent is to haul its population from poverty. Source: The Herald (Zimbabwe)

A study in Corruption and Firm Behavior

Extensive literature argues that reducing trade costs can substantially increase income and improve welfare in trading countries, particularly in the developing world where these costs are highest. In 2007, a shipping a container from a firm located in the main city of the average country in Sub-Saharan Africa was still twice as expensive, and six times more time-consuming, than shipping it from the US. It was also twice as expensive and just as time-consuming as shipping a similar container from India or Brazil, according to the World Bank. As a result, a significant portion of international aid efforts has in recent years been channeled to reducing trade costs and improving logistics in the developing world. Evidence is growing on how corruption in transport networks can significantly increase the cost of moving goods across borders.

A recent paper “Corruption and Firm Behaviour” investigates how different types of corruption affect company behavior. Firms can face two types of corruption when seeking a public service: cost-reducing, “collusive” corruption and cost-increasing “coercive” corruption. Using an original and unusually rich dataset on bribe payments at ports matched to firm-level data, the authors observe how firms respond to each type of corruption by adjusting their shipping and sourcing strategies. Cost-reducing “collusive” corruption is associated with higher usage of the corrupt port, while cost-increasing “coercive” corruption is associated with reduced demand for port services. Data suggests that firms respond to the opportunities and challenges created by different types of corruption, organizing production in a way that increases or decreases demand for the public service. This can have important implications for how we identify and measure the overall impact of corruption on economic activity. The data further allows us to understand the bribe setting behavior of different types of public officials with implications for the design of anti-corruption strategies.

In our setup, firms have the choice to ship through two ports: Maputo in Mozambique, and Durban in South Africa. The majority of firms in our sample are equidistant to both ports while a subset of firms will be significantly closer to the more corrupt port of Maputo. Survey data revealed that the choice of port is driven primarily by the interaction between transport and corruption costs at each port. Transport costs are linear to the distance between each rm and the ports, while corruption costs are determined by the type of product the firm ships. Our main measure of the distortion caused by corruption is how rms shipping products that are more vulnerable to corruption will opt to go the long way around to avoid a closer, but more corrupt port. We also nd suggestive correlations between the level and type of corruption rms face at each port, which directly affects the cost of using port services, and firms’ decision to source inputs from domestic or international markets.

Source: Corruption and Firm Behavior (December 2011) by Sandra Sequeira and Simeon Djankov.

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