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Namibian Trade PortalThe Namibia’s Ministry of Finance and Namibia’s Customs & Excise, in partnership with the U.S. government has recently launched a powerful new tool to increase and facilitate cross-border trade. The “Namibia Trade Information Portal” is a web-based platform that provides an authoritative “one-stop shop” of readily accessible trade, customs and compliance information. It is designed to significantly reduce the time and effort required for local and international traders to access current information and documentation required for doing business. The portal is the culmination of many years of collaboration between government of Namibia agencies and ministries and the U.S. government, working through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Southern Africa Trade Hub Project.

In his keynote address, Minister of Finance Calle Schlettwein said that the Trade Portal reflects the commitment of the Namibian government to build a “robust, knowledge-based society” through various modernization projects. However, he cautioned that the portal must be kept up-to-date if it is to be sustainable and relevant.

“For this reason, I strongly appeal to my fellow and counterpart ministers to designate focal points in their ministries who shall administer and avail timely updates, preferably online transmission of such information to our designated team in the Ministry of Finance who will, in turn, keep the portal updated,” Schlettwein said.

According to Namibia Trade Information Portal’s project manager, Melannie Tjijenda, the portal will save people time when they enquire about trade-related matters, so they will no longer be sent ‘from office to office.’

“International traders will now know how they can invest in Namibia,” she said, adding that this will save money on expenses like phone calls.

Tjijenda said the fact that most government websites are not regularly updated will not be the case with this portal. “When something changes, we will update it” she said, further pointing out that they have a team of content managers who will be checking and updating the content on regular basis. Source: The Namibian/USAID

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RhinoA new report released by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) partner TRAFFIC reveals that illegal rhino horn trade has reached the highest levels since the early 1990s, and illegal trade in ivory increased by nearly 300 percent from 1998 to 2011.

The report, Illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn: an assessment to improve law enforcement, is a key step to achieving USAID’s vision to adapt and deploy a range of development tools and interventions to significantly reduce illegal wildlife trafficking, USAID said in a September 22 press release. The report was prepared by the wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC in partnership with USAID. The assessment uses robust analysis to identify capacity gaps and key intervention points in countries combating wildlife trafficking.

Seizure data indicate that “the fundamental trade dynamic now lies between Africa and Asia,” according to the report. In China and Thailand, elephant ivory is fashioned into jewellery and carved into other decorative items, while wealthy consumers in Vietnam use rhino horn as a drug that they mistakenly believe cures hangovers and detoxifies the body.

Rhinos and elephants are under serious poaching pressure throughout Africa, with even previously safe populations collapsing. Central Africa’s forest elephants have been reduced by an estimated 76 percent over the past 12 years, while in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve elephant numbers have fallen from 70,000 in 2007 to only 13,000 by late 2013. A record 1,004 rhinos were poached in 2013 in South Africa alone, a stark contrast to the 13 animals poached there in 2007 before the latest crisis began.

Record quantities of ivory were seized worldwide between 2011 and 2013, with an alarming increase in the frequency of large-scale ivory seizures (500 kg or more) since 2000. Preliminary data already show more large-scale ivory seizures in 2013 than in the previous 25 years. Although incomplete, 2013 raw data already represent the greatest quantity of ivory in these seizures in more than 25 years.

Both rhino horn and ivory trafficking are believed to function as Asian-run, African-based operations, with the syndicates increasingly relying on sophisticated technology to run their operations. In order to disrupt and apprehend the individuals behind them, the global response needs to be equally sophisticated, USAID said.

“There’s no single solution to addressing the poaching crisis in Africa, and while the criminals master-minding and profiting from the trafficking have gotten smarter, so too must enforcement agencies, who need to improve collaborative efforts in order to disrupt the criminal syndicates involved in this illicit trade,” says Nick Ahlers, the leader of the Wildlife Trafficking, Response, Assessment and Priority Setting (Wildlife-TRAPS) Project.

The USAID-funded Wildlife-TRAPS Project seeks to transform the level of cooperation among those affected by illegal wildlife trade between Africa and Asia.

Rhino horn is often smuggled by air, using international airports as transit points between source countries in Africa and demand countries in Asia. Since 2009, the majority of ivory shipments have involved African seaports, increasingly coming out of East Africa. As fewer than 5 percent of export containers are examined in seaports, wildlife law enforcement relies greatly on gathering and acting on intelligence to detect illegal ivory shipments.

The report recommends further developing coordinated, specialized intelligence units to disrupt organized criminal networks by identifying key individuals and financial flows and making more high-level arrests. Also critically important are improved training, law enforcement technology, and monitoring judiciary processes at key locations in Africa and Asia.

The full text of the report (PDF, 1.6MB) is available on the USAID website. Source: USAID

FTW Online recently published an update on recent developments occurring along the Trans-Kalahari Corridor (TKC). It suggests that customs systems throughout the SADC region could soon be talking to each other through the Internet, if the pilot project between Namibia and Botswana is successful. During July 2011, the Southern African Trade Hub unveiled a plan to initiate a pilot programme to link the ASYCUDA systems of Namibia and Botswana via Microsoft’s Cloud Computing technology. Both Microsoft and USAID are partners in this initiative seeking to enable the two customs systems to communicate with each other through a secure portal. View the keynote presentation at the 2011 World Customs Organization IT Conference and Exhibition – Seattle, Ranga Munyaradzi (SATH) and Namibian Customs Commissioner, Bevan Simataa, were invited on-stage to elaborate on this initiative – click here!

According to Oscar Muyatwa, executive director of the Trans-Kalahari Corridor Secretariat, the initiative holds the prospect of opening up African opportunities in the United States for exports, as it is being supported by USAID as part of the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA). Both Namibian and Botswana Customs officials are to be trained in Cape Town over the next few months. The TKC Secretariat believe this initiative will bring about its vision of a ‘automated corridor’. Further ahead the TKCs envisages the establishment of One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs) to reduce border dwell and transit times. Muyatwa says ‘The ‘cloud’ will maintain vast volumes of transit data that will assist future planning along the corridor as well as revenue and budgeting forecasts’. Source: FTW Online.

Comment: lest there be any confusion amongst Customs users, traders and carriers, the concept of cloud computing in the Customs sphere is very ‘clouded’ at this point. What needs to be considered is the ‘ownership’, rights to ‘access’ and ‘integrity of use’ of such information. Furthermore, as this is a first-of-its-kind initiative (in Africa at least); it would be highly recommended that the participants and developers ‘share’ details of the approach with other SACU members in order to better understand the programme. Up to this point it is very unclear how the developer has gone about the integration of customs information, for instance, since ‘users’ have not been fully involved in the scope, proof-of-concept or design of the system. 

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