WTO: COVID-19 related restrictions on cross-border mobility are affecting global trade

A new information note published by the WTO Secretariat highlights how trade in goods and services has been affected by temporary border closures and travel restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It describes how the cross-border mobility of individuals plays an important role in both the cross-border provision and consumption of services and in manufacturing value chains.  

The paper notes that sweeping travel barriers introduced in the early stages of the pandemic have given way to more fine-tuned policies aimed at allowing through “essential” foreign workers, or creating quarantine-free “travel bubbles” among partners. Nevertheless, mobility barriers have had a particularly heavy impact on tourism and education services, as well as on trade in goods, due to their effect on transport services and on information and transaction costs.

The paper notes that international cooperation has a potentially important role to play in minimizing the economic impact of mobility restrictions. For instance, exchanging information on lessons learnt about mobility restrictions and trade could help WTO members foster greater resilience in the face of future crises. Such an exercise could help with identifying options to implement travel measures that meet public health protection objectives while minimizing the negative effects on trade.

Key points

  • International trade and investment have always relied on the cross-border mobility of individuals. 
  • To contain the spread of COVID-19, many WTO members imposed temporary border closures and travel restrictions. The severe restrictions on cross-border movement are not motivated by trade considerations but by public health reasons. Nevertheless, they have had a significant impact on trade. In several members, initial sweeping travel barriers have been replaced by more fine-tuned policies, aimed at allowing the movement of “essential” foreign workers, or creating “travel bubbles” permitting quarantine-free mobility among partners. 
  • A significant amount of services trade requires physical proximity between producers and consumers. International mobility to consume or provide services abroad is one way to attain this proximity. Mobility is also important to the operations of services providers who establish a commercial presence in other countries, as well as to those who ordinarily provide services remotely across international borders. 
  • Border measures and travel restrictions have had a particularly heavy impact on sectors such as tourism and education services. COVID-19 has triggered an unprecedented crisis for the tourism sector. In terms of travellers and revenue, international tourism in 2020 is expected to register its worst performance since 1950. In higher education, some institutions are facing a potential drop in international student enrolment of 50 to 75 per cent. 
  • Mobility barriers also significantly affect trade in goods, through their impact on transport services and on information and transaction costs. 
  • Restarting international mobility is unlikely to proceed in a linear fashion. Given the crossborder spill-overs resulting from measures affecting transnational mobility, a case can be made for supplementing domestic action with international cooperative efforts. WTO members may eventually wish to look into building greater preparedness and resilience for future crises, for example starting with information exchange about lessons learnt about mobility restrictions and trade. The exercise could help with identifying ways to implement travel measures that meet public health protection objectives while producing the least trade distortive effects.

The report can be found here!

Source: World Trade Organisation

AfCFTA – an uphill struggle in quest for regional trade on the continent

Picture : Bloomberg.com

The following article was published by Bloomberg and sketches the day-to-day hardship for cross border trucking through Africa. In a sense it asks the very questions and challenges which the average African asks in regard to the highly anticipated free trade area. While rules of origin and tariffs form the basis of trade across borders, together with freedom of movement of people, these will mean nothing if African people receive no benefit. As globalisation appears to falter across Europe and the West, it begs the question whether this is in fact is the solution for Africa; particularly for the reason that many believe globalisation itself is an extension of capitalism which some of the African states are at loggerheads with. Moreover, how many of these countries can forego the much need Customs revenue to sustain their economies, let alone losing political autonomy – only time will tell.

Nyoni Nsukuzimbi drives his 40-ton Freightliner for just over half a day from Johannesburg to the Beitbridge border post with Zimbabwe. At the frontier town—little more than a gas station and a KFC—he sits in a line for two to three days, in temperatures reaching 104F, waiting for his documents to be processed.

That’s only the start of a journey Nsukuzimbi makes maybe twice a month. Driving 550 miles farther north gets him to the Chirundu border post on the Zambian frontier. There, starting at a bridge across the Zambezi River, trucks snake back miles into the bush. “There’s no water, there’s no toilets, there are lions,” says the 40-year-old Zimbabwean. He leans out of the Freightliner’s cab over the hot asphalt, wearing a white T-shirt and a weary expression. “It’s terrible.”

By the time he gets his load of tiny plastic beads—the kind used in many manufacturing processes—to a factory on the outskirts of Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, he’s been on the road for as many as 10 days to traverse just 1,000 miles. Nsukuzimbi’s trials are typical of truck drivers across Africa, where border bureaucracy, corrupt officials seeking bribes, and a myriad of regulations that vary from country to country have stymied attempts to boost intra-African trade.

The continent’s leaders say they’re acting to change all that. Fifty-three of its 54 nations have signed up to join only Eritrea, which rivals North Korea in its isolation from the outside world, hasn’t. The African Union-led agreement is designed to establish the world’s biggest free-trade zone by area, encompassing a combined economy of $2.5 trillion and a market of 1.2 billion people. Agreed in May 2019, the pact is meant to take effect in July and be fully operational by 2030. “The AfCFTA,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his Oct. 7 weekly letter to the nation, “will be a game-changer, both for South Africa and the rest of the continent.”

It has to be if African economies are ever going to achieve their potential. Africa lags behind other regions in terms of internal trade, with intracontinental commerce accounting for only 15% of total trade, compared with 58% in Asia and more than 70% in Europe. As a result, supermarket shelves in cities such as Luanda, Angola, and Abidjan, Ivory Coast, are lined with goods imported from the countries that once colonized them, Portugal and France.

By lowering or eliminating cross-border tariffs on 90% of African-produced goods, the new regulations are supposed to facilitate the movement of capital and people and create a liberalized market for services. “We haven’t seen as much institutional will for a large African Union project before,” says Kobi Annan, an analyst at Songhai Advisory in Ghana. “The time frame is a little ambitious, but we will get there.”

President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana and other heads of state joined Ramaphosa in hailing the agreement, but a number of the businesspeople who are supposed to benefit from it are skeptical. “Many of these governments depend on that duty income. I don’t see how that’s ever going to disappear,” says Tertius Carstens, the chief executive officer of Pioneer Foods Group Ltd., a South African maker of fruit juices and cereal that’s being acquired by PepsiCo Inc. for about $1.7 billion. “Politically it sounds good; practically it’s going to be a nightmare to implement, and I expect resistance.”

Under the rules, small countries such as Malawi, whose central government gets 7.7% of its revenue from taxes on international trade and transactions, will forgo much-needed income, at least initially. By contrast, relatively industrialized nations like Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa will benefit from the outset. “AfCFTA will require huge trade-offs from political leaders,” says Ronak Gopaldas, a London-based director at Signal Risk, which advises companies in Africa. “They will need to think beyond short-term election cycles and sovereignty in policymaking.”

Taking those disparities into account, the AfCFTA may allow poorer countries such as Ethiopia 15 years to comply with the trade regime, whereas South Africa and other more developed nations must do so within five. To further soften the effects on weaker economies, Africa could follow the lead of the European Union, says Axel Pougin de La Maissoneuve, deputy head of the trade and private sector unit in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Development and International Cooperation. The EU adopted a redistribution model to offset potential losses by Greece, Portugal, and other countries.

There may be structural impediments to the AfCFTA’s ambitions. Iron ore, oil, and other raw materials headed for markets such as China make up about half of the continent’s exports. “African countries don’t produce the goods that are demanded by consumers and businesses in other African countries,” says Trudi Hartzenberg, executive director of the Tralac Trade Law Center in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Trust and tension over illicit activity are also obstacles. Beginning in August, Nigeria shut its land borders to halt a surge in the smuggling of rice and other foodstuffs. In September, South Africa drew continentwide opprobrium after a recurrence of the anti-immigrant riots that have periodically rocked the nation. This could hinder the AfCFTA’s provisions for the free movement of people.

Considering all of these roadblocks, a skeptic would be forgiven for giving the AfCFTA little chance of success. And yet there are already at least eight trade communities up and running on the continent. While these are mostly regional groupings, some countries belong to more than one bloc, creating overlap. The AfCFTA won’t immediately replace these regional blocs; rather, it’s designed to harmonize standards and rules, easing trade between them, and to eventually consolidate the smaller associations under the continent­wide agreement.

The benefits of the comprehensive agreement are plain to see. It could, for example, limit the sort of unilateral stumbling blocks Pioneer Foods’ Carstens had to deal with in 2019: Zimbabwe insisted that all duties be paid in U.S. dollars; Ghana and Kenya demanded that shippers purchase special stickers from government officials to affix to all packaging to prevent smuggling.

The African Export-Import Bank estimates intra-African trade could increase by 52% during the first year after the pact is implemented and more than double during the first decade. The AfCFTA represents a “new pan-Africanism” and is “a pragmatic realization” that African countries need to unite to achieve better deals with trading partners, says Carlos Lopes, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and one of the architects of the agreement.

From his closer-to-the-ground vantage point, Olisaemeka Anieze also sees possible benefits. He’s relocating from South Africa, where he sold secondhand clothes, to his home country of Nigeria, where he wants to farm fish and possibly export them to neighboring countries. “God willing,” he says, “if the free-trade agreement comes through, Africa can hold its own.”

In the meantime, there are those roads. About 80% of African trade travels over them, according to Tralac. The World Bank estimates the poor state of highways and other infrastructure cuts productivity by as much as 40%.

If the AfCFTA can trim the red tape, at least driving the roads will be more bearable, says David Myende, 38, a South African trucker resting after crossing the border post into South Africa on the way back from delivering a load to the Zambian mining town of Ndola. “The trip is short, the borders are long,” he says. “They’re really long when you’re laden, and customs officers can keep you waiting up to four or five days to clear your goods.” 

Source: article by Anthony Sguazzin, Prinesha Naidoo and Brian Latham, Bloomberg, 30 January 2020

South Korea – aiming to become a Global Customs Services Leader

South Korea hopes to be a leader in global customs services by offering solutions to complex international clearance procedures.

South Korea Customs Service (KCS) chief Kim Yung Moon said the agency hopes it can help foster trade relations between local businesses and partner nations worldwide.

In an interview with the Korea Times, he said the agency would continue to devote its manpower and resources to provide full support for export firms, especially the small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that were the foundations of the South Korean economy.

The agency’s commitment was well-illustrated as the KCS under his leadership helped limit the fallout following the ongoing South Korea – Japan trade war that has led to major losses for South Korean exporters.

Since March, KCS officials have been dispatched to 30 customs offices nationwide to offer various forms of support, including consulting, technical aid and trade statistics data management.

The support has helped 2,189 SMEs log a combined US$2.4 billion (RM10 billion) in exports in the March-October period, up 2.2 per cent from US$2.3 billion (RM9.8 billion) the year before.

“We tried to identify what the firms needed most and came up with ideas on how we could be of assistance. I am glad we were able to fulfil our public duty,” Kim said.

In July, the KCS saved a local zinc coated steelmaker 1.3 billion won (RM4.5 million) in tariffs imposed by Taiwanese customs authorities after they accepted KCS opinion asking them to reclassify the item as a tariff-exempt product.

Similarly, a team of KCS officials was able to have the Indian customs authorities in March rescind a 10 per cent tariff imposed on Korea-made copy papers categorised as a no-tariff item under the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), a free trade agreement between South Korea and India.

This helped a local paper maker not only avoid what could have been an annual tariff of 200 million won (RM700,000), but also cleared the way for similar businesses to enter the market without the uncertainty of hefty, unexpected tariffs.

Most significant is that the agency was able to finalise the international standards on display modules, Korea’s key export item.

This allowed them to be classified as LCD modules exempt from tariffs in line with the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), a multilateral agreement enforced by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The process required painstaking efforts to persuade members of the World Customs Organization (WCO) and it proved South Korea’s “soft power” with the international customs body comprised of 183 countries representing over 98 percent of international trade.

A senior KCS official Kang Tae Il has also been elected a director of the Capacity Building Directorate at the WCO, whose members look to South Korea for training, consulting and multilateral aid utilising official development assistance funds and Customs Cooperation Fund-Korea.

Since 2009, 3,727 customs officials from around the world have undergone training offered by the KCS.

The appointment of Kang has also boosted KCS’ standing on the global stage, coupled with its artificial intelligence-based block chain customs services in a country recognized for its high-tech infrastructure and ICT expertise.

The agency’s key achievement is UNI-PASS, a KCS-developed electronic clearance system designed to enhance swift customs clearance and logistics service convenience.

The e-clearance system highly regarded by the KCS’s global peers increases work efficiency by minimizing manual errors and improving input accuracy by auto-generation of trade records.

“We will continue our efforts to strengthen influence and boost our say in the international customs circle. We will also become a leading standard setter involving the implementation and revision of related customs practices concerning e-commerce and risk management. This will boost the standing of Korea on the global stage,” Kim said.

Source: New Straits Times – December 11, 2019 

SA Customs Procedure Guideline and Chart – 2019

SARS Customs clearance has operated under a Customs Procedure Code (CPC) regime for almost 10 years now. To commemorate the 10-year anniversary, the accompanying CPC Chart and External User Guideline is intended for expert users and newcomers to Customs clearance, alike. In particular, it is important for cross-border traders to understand that the CPC combinations cannot be used indiscriminately; but, have specific meanings and associations with various other Customs rules for the electronic processing of goods for import, transit and export. Attempts to ‘fudge’ a CPC for any particular purpose or reason, may lead to a negative result downstream. Accuracy in the use and application of CPCs results in improved trade compliance, more accurate trade statistical data and fewer declaration amendments hence less penalties and lost time. Over the last decade, it is certain that most international freight forwarders and tertiary Customs training institutes and universities have introduced some or other CPC methodology into their curricula. Feel free to use this guide in support of such curricula. I do however, request that in so doing, the attached material – made freely available to you – will be delivered ‘intact’ in the form as compiled and presented here.

The files can be dowloaded below –

External CPC Tutorial & Self-Assessment Guide 2019

CPC Chart October 2019