ICD 2020 – #MakeTradeWork

Picture courtesy of the WCO

To mark International Customs Day 2020 – focusing on the theme of ‘fostering Sustainability for People, Prosperity and the Planet’, the following article from the Spring 2018 edition of World Trade Matters by Jan Hoffmann, the Chief of the Trade Logistics Branch, Division on Technology and Logistics at UNCTAD, is relevant. The article discusses global trade facilitation reforms, the digitalisation of trade and measures towards ensuring long-term sustainability in the maritime industry. 

Confronted with growing populism and a surge in protectionist measures recorded by the WTO, policy makers and enterprises are struggling to avoid a backlash in international trade. At UNCTAD’s Trade Logistics Branch, we support these endeavours by helping to make trade work better. Through trade facilitation reforms, the promotion of digitalisation, and ensuring the long-term sustainability of international transport, we aim at ensuring that the international movement of goods is not confronted with unnecessary obstacles and costs. 

A multilateral agreement to facilitate international trade

Under the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), developing countries commit to implement a number of very practical measures that make trade easier and more transparent. Countries are obliged to publish duties and procedures on the web, traders can transmit their declarations prior to the arrival of the goods, payments can be made electronically, and fees and charges must not become hidden taxes to generate income for the government. These are but some of the 37 concrete measures grouped into 12 Articles of the TFA. They are all useful and help make trade more efficient. 

However, many of these measures involve an initial investment or reforms that require human and financial resources to start with, which developing countries many not have. The good news is that the TFA also includes a novel mechanism – the so called “Special and Differential Treatment” – that helps developing countries plan and acquire the necessary capacity prior to being fully committed to comply with all 12 Articles. Concretely, the mechanism puts the developing countries in the position – and obligation – to analyse and notify their own implementation capacity. At UNCTAD, we are working closely with the developing countries to enable them to do so. Our main counterpart in this endeavour are the National Trade Facilitation Committees (NTFCs) that each country must set up under the TFA. UNCTAD’s Empowerment Programme for NTFCs includes training and knowledge development for the members of the NTFC, combined with advisory services and the development of a Roadmap of TFA implementation. 

By the same token, UNCTAD also supports developing countries in setting up Trade Information Portals. Under the TFA, members of the WTO are obliged to make relevant information on tariffs and trade procedures available on-line. UNCTAD’s Trade Information Portals not only help countries become compliant with this obligation, but in the process of analysing and publishing applicable trade procedures, a Trade Information Portal effectively helps countries identify the potential for the further simplification of procedures. Thanks to these new insights, NTFCs can then develop programmes and reforms that subsequently ensure the further simplification of procedures. 

Technological progress will never be as slow as today

My favourite provision of the TFA is Article 10.1., as it provides for a dynamic dimension of the Agreement. According to this article, countries need to minimize “the incidence and complexity of import, export, and transit formalities”, continuously “review” requirements, keep “reducing the time and cost of compliance for traders and operators”, and always choose “the least trade restrictive measure”. As such, even if a country is compliant with all TFA provisions today, countries will need to continue monitoring if existing procedures are still appropriate in view of technological or regulatory developments. 

As trade becomes increasingly digitalised, and new technologies which do not yet exist will be developed, it will be important that governments continuously revise and review the applicable rules and regulations. 

Digitalisation comes in stages. First, we optimize existing procedures, making use of cargo tracking, the Internet of Things, blockchain et al. Second, new businesses are developed which could not exist without the new technologies; new platforms come into being and we see more “uberisation”. Finally, there is transformation and science fiction; still in our lifetime Artificial Intelligence will overtake human capabilities to manage international trade and its logistics. 

But let us take one step at a time. At UNCTAD, we support developing countries through eTrade readiness assessments, the development and upgrade of technological solutions in Customs automation and Single Windows, and by providing a Forum for our members to analyse and discuss the challenges that come with digitalisation. We encourage the development of global standards that allow for interoperability among new systems. The challenge for policy makers it to encourage private sector investments in new technologies and solutions, while ensuring that no new monopolies emerge that might exclude smaller players.  

And it has to be sustainable

While we aim at ensuring continued growth in international trade, there is a catch. The transport of this trade encompasses increasing externalities, such as pollution, green-house-gas emissions, and congestion. 

Ports need to minimise social and environmental externalities. Many port cities are among the most polluted places to live, as ships burn heavy oil, and delivering trucks produce noise and cause traffic congestions. In addition, ports need to be resilient in the face of disruptions and damages caused by natural disasters and climate change impacts. 

International transport, including shipping, needs to play a larger role in addressing global warming and contribute to mitigating the carbon emissions that are causing climate change. Shipping emits less carbon dioxide (CO2) per ton-mile than other modes of transport, but then due to its sheer volume it also produces many ton-miles. Would it be possible that the industry could be charged by its main regulatory body not per ship tonnage (as is currently the case), but per tonne of CO2 emission? 

Currently, the International Maritime Organization is funded proportional to the tonnage registered under the members’ flags. Like this, Panama, Marshall Islands and Liberia pay for the largest share of the IMO budget – and in the end, this is passed on to the ship-owner, who in turn passes this on to the shipper, who will charge the consumer. This is a good established mechanism that could be expanded to also internalize the external costs of CO2 emissions. 

Being the most globalized of all businesses, maritime transport should consider adopting a global regime that helps further internalize its environmental externalities – to ensure prosperity for all.  

It is all about efficiency

Investing in trade facilitation reforms, making intelligent use of the latest technologies, and ensuring that externalities are internalized are all several sides of the same coin. Trade efficiency is necessary to promote an open international trading system. It requires a continuous effort by policy makers to continuously review current procedures, apply the most appropriate technological solutions, and support an efficient allocation of scarce resources. 

Source: Jan Hoffman, UNCTAD – originally published in World Trade Matters, Spring Edition, 2018

AU – Online tool to remove Trade Barriers in Africa goes live

An online platform developed by UNCTAD and the African Union to help remove non-tariff barriers to trade in Africa became operational on 13 January.

Traders and businesses moving goods across the continent can now instantly report the challenges they encounter, such as quotas, excessive import documents or unjustified packaging requirements.

The tool, tradebarriers.africa, will help African governments monitor and eliminate such barriers, which slow the movement of goods and cost importers and exporters in the region billions annually.

An UNCTAD report shows that African countries could gain US$20 billion each year by tackling such barriers at the continental level – much more than the $3.6 billion they could pick up by eliminating tariffs.

“Non-tariff barriers are the main obstacles to trade between African countries,” said Pamela Coke-Hamilton, director of UNCTAD’s trade division.

“That’s why the success of the African Continental Free Trade Area depends in part on how well governments can track and remove them,” she said, referring to the agreement signed by African governments to create a single, continent-wide market for goods and services.

The AfCFTA, which entered into force in May 2019, is expected to boost intra-African trade, which at 16% is low compared to other regional blocs. For example, 68% of the European Union’s trade take place among EU nations. For the Asian region, the share is 60%.

The agreement requires member countries to remove tariffs on 90% of goods. But negotiators realized that non-tariff barriers must also be addressed and called for a reporting, monitoring and elimination mechanism.

The online platform built by UNCTAD and the African Union is a direct response to that demand.

Hands-on training

Complaints logged on the platform will be monitored by government officials in each nation and a special coordination unit that’s housed in the AfCFTA secretariat.

The unit will be responsible for verifying a complaint. Once verified, officials in the countries concerned will be tasked with addressing the issue within set timelines prescribed by the AfCFTA agreement.

Hands-on training

UNCTAD and the African Union trained 60 public officials and business representatives from across Africa on how to use the tool in December 2019 in Nairobi, Kenya.

They practiced logging and responding to complaints, in addition to learning more about non-tariff barriers and their effects on trade and business opportunities.

“The AfCFTA non-tariff barriers mechanism is a transparent tool that will help small businesses reach African markets,” said Ndah Ali Abu, a senior official at Nigeria’s trade ministry, who will manage complaints concerning Africa’s largest economy.

UNCTAD and the African Union first presented tradebarriers.africa in July 2019 during the launch of the AfCFTA’s operational phase at the 12th African Union Extraordinary Summit in Niamey, Niger.

Following the official presentation, they conducted multiple simulation exercises with business and government representatives to identify any possible operational challenges.

Lost in translation

One of the challenges was linguistic. Africa is home to more than 1,000 languages. So the person who logs a complaint may speak a different language from the official in charge of dealing with the issue.

Such would be the case, for example, if an English-speaking truck driver from Ghana logged a complaint about the number of import documents required to deliver Ghanaian cocoa to importers in Togo – a complaint that would be sent to French-speaking Togolese officials.

“For the online tool to be effective, communication must be instantaneous,” said Christian Knebel, an UNCTAD economist working on the project.

The solution, he said, was to add a plug-in to the online platform that automatically translates between Arabic, English, French, Portuguese and Swahili – languages that are widely spoken across the continent. More languages are being added.

UNCTAD’s work on the AfCFTA non-tariff barriers mechanism is funded by the German government.

Source: UNCTAG.ORG, 17 January 2020

WCO Workshop on Inland Depots in Lao PDR

inland-port-7The World Customs Organization (WCO) organized a National Workshop on Inland Depots under the sponsorship of the Customs Cooperation Fund (CCF)/Japan and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). It was held from 20 to 22 September 2016 in Savannakhet Province, Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

Twenty six Customs officers from the Lao Customs Administration participated in the workshop, along with guest Customs experts from The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Japan and JICA. Mr. Somphit Sengmanivong, Deputy Director General of the Lao Customs Administration, opened the workshop. He highlighted the importance of Inland Depots as a national strategy to secure his country’s economic growth and sought participants’ active participation in the discussions on this topic.

Presently, there is no clear definition of “Inland Depot” and many similar terms, such as Dry Port, Inland Terminal, Free Trade Zone and Special Economic Zones, are used in the international logistics. During the three-day workshop, participants discussed the functions and a possible definition of Inland Depot from a Customs perspective.

AmatiComment – Inland container terminals serve as important hubs or nodes for the distribution and consolidation of imported and export destined cargoes. There are 16 Landlocked countries in Africa, which signifies the importance of hinterland logistics development and its consequential impact on regional trade groupings. Consequentially, it behooves governments to understand and support the logistics supply chain industry in maximizing inland transportation (multi-modal) infrastructures to achieve a common and mutually beneficial economic environment. Furthermore, the more facilitative these arrangements, the better opportunity there is for success and longer-term economic sustainability.

The WCO Secretariat made presentations on international standards for relevant procedures, including Customs warehouses, free zones, Customs transit, inward processing, clearance for home use and temporary admission. Experts from The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Japan described their national and regional experience of Customs warehousing, and Customs transit procedures. The JICA expert presented the bonded procedures applied by neighbouring countries to Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Lao Customs administration explained their national system for Inland Depots and a logistics company of Lao PDR shared its expectations on inland depots.

On the last day, participants discussed the challenges and possible solutions to enhance the functional and efficiency of Lao’s Inland Depots. Possible solutions, such as the use of modern information technology, further cooperation with the private sector, clear regulations on relevant procedures, coordinated border management and international cooperation were considered. Source: WCO

Recommended reading

WCO accredited Customs Modernization Advisors and Mercator Programme Advisors

The WCO, in its effort to assist Members with Strategic Planning activities and WTO TFA implementation held two back to back accreditation workshops in Pretoria, South Africa. These events were held during the week of 1-5 February 2016 and 8-12 February 2016, were funded by the United Kingdom within the framework of the WCO-DFID ESA project and HMRC-WCO-UNCTAD project and organizationally supported by the South African Revenue Service.

24Customs officers from the WCO ESA and WCA regions participated in the workshops and were assessed against the Customs Modernization Advisors (CMAs) and Mercator Programme Advisors (MPAs) required profile through a series of testing exercises, presentations, role-plays, group activities and plenary discussions.

Participants were also required to demonstrate their knowledge and strategic application of core WCO tools and instruments and the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement along with their potential to facilitate discussions with senior Customs and other officials in a strategic context.

At these two events 15 participants successfully completed step 1 of the accreditation process as they demonstrated their potential to become CMA’s/MPA’s during the range of workshop activities.

From the five WCO CMA/MPA accreditation events held to date a total of 41 participants have been assessed as being suitable to become CMAs and MPAs under step 1 of the accreditation process and will be invited to participate in TFA implementation support missions under the Mercator Programme in order to complete the accreditation process. It is expected that the successful candidates are made available by their Customs administrations for further support missions in the future. Source: WCO

DRC – Tale of woe as Customs System brings Trade to a Halt!

Kasumbalesa1Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) border post with Zambia, one of Africa’s busiest land frontiers, went high-tech, with a web-based customs system that was meant to improve efficiency and eradicate corruption. It’s not quite working to plan. As officials struggle to get to grips with the new system and DRC’s decrepit phone network groans under the weight of data, the Kasumbalesa border post 300 km (200 miles) north of Lusaka has almost ground to a halt, according to drivers and freight operators. The result is a tailback of trucks stretching at least 20 km into Zambia and a spike in prices in Lubumbashi, impoverished DRC’s second city, which has lost its one proper road link to the outside. The bottleneck is bad even by African standards but it throws into stark relief the problems governments face as they try to remove the numerous bureaucratic and physical barriers to intra-regional trade across the poorest continent.

The Kasumbalesa blockage is being felt 100 km away in Lubumbashi, a bustling mining city of several million who rely on the 450 trucks a day that normally pass through the border laden with everything from biscuits to cement to paraffin. Shop owners are stockpiling and prices of staples such as casava powder – known locally as fufu – have gone up 50 percent in three weeks. “This has already had a big effect. It is causing lots of problems for the population,” Lubumbashi resident Charles Pitchou said.

Kasumbalesa – at the heart of the relatively prosperous and developed Copperbelt – was meant to be an example of how to do it properly, a frontier handed over to a private firm to make customs run like clockwork.

In one of the first public-private partnerships on African borders, an Israeli-run firm called Baran Trade and Investments won a 20-year concession in 2009 to build a “one-stop” customs post and operate it for 20 years. (Makes one wonder why the countries have a Customs authority in the first place?) With $5 million of Baran’s own money and a $20 million loan from the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the Zambia Border Crossing Company (ZBCC), as the subsidiary was known, had a streamlined Kasumbalesa up and running in 2011. Local media reports suggested much-reduced crossing times. However, Lusaka canceled ZBCC’s contract in late 2011 when President Rupiah Banda lost an election and his successor, Michael Sata, ordered investigations into a slew of state deals struck by his predecessor. TheBaran deal never went out to public tender and the fees charged to trucks – $19 per axle – were too high. It also said giving control of the border to an outside concessionaire was a threat to national security and that the reduction in waiting times was not as dramatic as the firm said. Baran’s chief executive, contacted via ZBCC’s website, did not respond to requests for comment.

With Baran gone, the state-run border posts muddled through until September, when DRC upgraded its systems from ‘Sydonia++’, a set-up widely used in the 1990s, to a web-based successor called ‘Sydonia World’, freight operators and regional trade experts said. Although UNCTAD was pushing use of ‘Sydonia World’ as far back as 2002, the data burden was too much for DRC’s computer networks, which crashed.

“The system is very good but if you don’t have a decent Internet connection, it doesn’t work,” said Mike Fitzmaurice, a South African logistics consultant and editor of online trade journal Freight Into Africa. National government spokesman Lambert Mende said a vice finance minister had been despatched from Kinshasa, 1,500 km away, to resolve the problem.

Zambia too is pulling out the stops to get the border moving again in a region important to its economy. “We need to have a normal flow of goods and services because this affects the entire region,” deputy trade minister Miles Sampa told Reuters. One stop-gap solution has been to scan documents in low-resolution black-and-white, rather than full color, to ease the data burden. But even if the two sides iron out the immediate snafu, the fiasco has provided another example of the dream of a seamless, integrated African border crossing falling short of reality.

Zimbabwe and Zambia upgraded their Chirundu border to a one-stop frontier in 2009 but crossing times have only dropped from 38 hours before to 35 now, according to Fitzmaurice, who compiles weekly records on delays. By contrast, customs clearance within the 114-year-old Southern African Customs Union (SACU) – South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland – can be as little as 30 minutes. “Once you go north of SACU, into Zimbabwe, Zambia, wherever, there’s no such thing as a ‘good’ border post,” Fitzmaurice said. “The concept behind all these systems is good but the implementation just falls down every time.” Source: Lusaka Voice

UNCTAD and International Trade Centre forge deal to assist LDCs attain Trade Facilitation compliance

UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi (left) and the ITC"s Executive Director Arancha González, shake hands upon signing the Memorandum of Understanding. (UNCTAD)

UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi (left) and the ITC”s Executive Director Arancha González, shake hands upon signing the Memorandum of Understanding. (UNCTAD)

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Trade Centre (ITC) have joined forces to assist developing countries in the implementation of the recent WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement reached in Bali, Indonesia. The two agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding 4 March reaffirming this collaboration.

“The Trade Facilitation Agreement is a real opportunity for developing countries, but only if they can put its provisions into practice,” said Arancha González, ITC’s Executive Director.

“The two agencies complement each other very well and can offer meaningful support to developing countries together,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi. UNCTAD already has a successful programme in building institutional capacity around effective trade facilitation, while ITC has experience in building the capacity of the private sector and increasing their export competitiveness”, he added.

The programme which the agencies will develop will focus particularly on Least Developed Countries.

Initially, the cooperation will concentrate on helping countries to identify and categorise the commitments under the Agreement in categories A, B and C and ensuring support for implementing the transparency provisions of the Agreement. These include ensuring better and easier access to information for traders; helping to develop advance rulings and rights of appeal legislation; facilitating greater predictability and reliability of procedures through simplified formalities and documentation and the use of international standards; and the adoption of single windows for traders.

“These are just some of the areas where the ITC and UNCTAD have identified clear needs in developing countries based on UNCTAD”s needs assessment programmes and the surveys undertaken by the ITC of its SME clients,” Mr. Kituyi said.

“In some cases we will need to ensure better cooperation between the public and private sector,” Ms. González said. “This is the ITC”s bread and butter: supporting a trade dialogue between business and policy makers.”

The collaboration between the two agencies is in response to a critical issue identified by developing countries in the lead-up to December’s WTO conference: whether there was enough financing and to support the necessary reforms, particularly in LDCs. This partnership will provide an opportunity to donors and other development partners to demonstrate their commitment to the implementation of global trade facilitation reform by working with UNCTAD and ITC. The agencies will collaborate with other organisations and the private sector to advance implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.

“The hope is that donors will see this collaborative venture between the ITC and UNCTAD, as an effective and efficient platform for helping developing countries, especially LDCs, to take advantage of the benefits an effective facilitating architecture can bring,” Mr. Kituyi said.

The private sector is also urged to explore ways that they can partner with the ITC and UNCTAD to provide their expertise to SMEs in developing countries. “Making the process of trade easier in developing countries is a plus for the global trade reality,” concluded Ms. Gonzalez, “It is a win-win situation”. Source: UNCTAD

UNCTAD – Africa ‘ignores its trade deals’

Cars and trucks at the South African border at Musina, Limpopo, queue to cross into Zimbabwe. The Unctad report says there are traditional transport routes in Africa - Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng.

Cars and trucks at the South African border at Musina, Limpopo, queue to cross into Zimbabwe. The Unctad report says there are traditional transport routes in Africa – Photo: Motshwari Mofokeng.

An official in the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), complains that Africa’s leaders repeatedly sign trade agreements and fail to implement them. Launching the organisation’s 2013 Africa development report in Johannesburg, Patrick Osakwe said leaders should set more realistic targets and “do more serious research” on the viability of the agreements.

Intra-African trade represents only about 11 percent of Africa’s total trade with the world, despite official commitments to improve the flows. Osakwe cited the case of the regional industrial policy adopted by the Economic Community of West African States in June 2010, which “has yet to be fully implemented”.

In June 2011 President Jacob Zuma announced talks on a 26-nation free trade agreement between three existing trading blocs, including the Southern African Development Community, of which South Africa is a member. Experts greeted the proposal with scepticism, noting a long history of leaders signing commitments to free trade or regional integration, but failing to follow through.

The Unctad report, which was launched simultaneously in Geneva and in centres in Africa, said development should be seen in a regional context: co-operation among countries in a broader range of areas than just trade and trade facilitation. It should include investment, research and development, and regional infrastructure development.

The report cited the Maputo Development Corridor linking Gauteng to the port of Maputo as “a successful, true transport corridor that has unlocked landlocked provinces in one of the most highly industrialised and productive regions of southern Africa”.

It said: “There are currently more than 20 corridors in operation in Africa but most tend to be traditional transport corridors. There is a need to move beyond that and to create industrial development corridors as well.

The report focused on intra-African trade and urged governments to unlock the private sector’s potential so that they could successfully diversify their economies. Most African countries are heavily dependent on commodities to grow their economies.

Africa accounts for only 1 percent of global manufacturing, and manufacturing represents only about 10 percent of African gross domestic product, compared with 35 percent for east Asia and the Pacific, and 16 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The share of manufacturing in intra-African trade fell from about 54 percent between 1996 and 2000 to 43 percent between 2007 and 2011, as the value of commodity exports soared.

The report identified a major challenge to expanding the manufacturing sector. The average manufacturing company in sub-Saharan Africa has 47 employees, compared with 171 in Malaysia, 195 in Vietnam and 393 in Thailand. The small size of the operations prevents businesses from achieving economies of scale.

Other barriers were weak linkages between small and large firms, a high share of informal firms, low levels of export competitiveness and a lack of innovation capability. Transport costs were also prohibitive. “In central Africa, transporting 1 ton of goods from Douala in Cameroon to N’Djamena in Chad costs $0.11 (R1.10) per kilometre, more than twice the cost in western Europe and more than five times the cost in Pakistan.” Source: www.iol.co.za