South Africa – WCO ESA Regional Workshop on TFA implementation

ESA_Regional-WS_South-AfricaThe WCO Regional Workshop on Strategic Initiatives for Trade Facilitation and the Implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) – Mercator Programme – for the WCO East and Southern Africa (ESA) region was held from 15 to 17 September 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was hosted by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) representing the WCO Vice Chair of the ESA region, and financially supported by the United Kingdom Department for International Development (UK DFID) and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. More than 100 participants from 21 ESA Members (Customs, Trade Ministries/equivalent Ministries), the WTO and other international organizations, development partners and the private sector participated in the event.

The Workshop was opened by the Commissioner of SARS, Mr. Thomas Moyane. He expressed his view that the WCO Mercator Programme created significant conditions for contributing to intra-African as well as international trade facilitation benefits. As Vice Chair of the ESA region, he hoped that the Workshop could recommend immediate actions for the region.

The Workshop raised a lot of interest and active discussions from a variety of well-prepared and informative presentations, including the role of the WCO in TFA implementation;  TFA regulations such as Article 23.2 on National Committees on Trade Facilitation (NCTF) and specific national and (sub-)regional examples of implementation approaches; experiences of Trade Ministries and several partner institutions active in the region; and discussions on further approaches to Capacity Building and TFA implementation, including in cooperation with Development Partners.

The region agreed on next steps forward, including on a regional focus on the establishment and maintenance of NCTFs (for instance further provision of replies to the respective WCO survey; identification of the situation within ESA Members); reporting the outcomes of the Workshop to the ESA Regional Steering Committee; encouragement of ESA Members who are not yet Contracting Parties to the Revised Kyoto Convention to accede to it as soon as possible (and/or to identify related Capacity Building needs) – as one concrete way to also support TFA implementation; and responsibility of the ROCB and the Vice Chair to continue collecting and publishing information on ongoing Capacity Building projects and work of partner organizations such as SADC, COMESA, SACU and UNCTAD especially in the TF(A) area in the region – while encouraging Members and partner organizations to share such information.

The Workshop was successfully concluded with positive feedback from Members, partner organizations and development partners. A summary document on the discussions held during the Workshop is currently under finalization by the Vice Chair’s office and the ROCB and will be circulated to all participants of the Workshop in due course. Source: WCO

TFA – Africa is on the move! Why not go faster?

WTO LogoThe following article is published with the kind permission of the author, Tapia Naula who is Principal Transport Economist at African Development Bank, based in the Ivory Coast. He is an international project manager and transport economist with experience in logistics business, research and trade facilitation. This article is a must for anyone associated with or working on the TFA on the African sub-continent, and a bit of a wake up call to those countries who have as yet done little or nothing to progress their participation.

In the World TFA Cup Asia is leading Africa 72 – 35. The first scores of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement are out as member countries submit their Category A notifications. Initial results of the African first series are somewhat unfulfilling. Some teams are playing defensive even if attacking tactic is the only way to win.

In December 2013, WTO members concluded negotiations on a Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) at the Bali Ministerial Conference, as part of a wider “Bali Package”. Among trade facilitation practitioners the Agreement was received with great enthusiasm: finally there was a legal instrument, which is concrete enough to make a difference! TFA will enter into force once two-thirds of members have completed their domestic ratification process. Section I contains substantive provisions in 12 main Articles. The members are required to categorize and notify each provision of the Agreement as either A, B or C Category. The A Category commits a country to implement the provision upon entry into force of the TFA, or one year after for LDC’s. For B-Category there will be a transitional period. C-Category provisions are allowed a transitional period, technical assistance and capacity building.

First, let it be said loud and clear: the WTO TFA is an excellent collection of modern trade and transport facilitation instruments in one folder. In developing countries its implementation would mean reforms that would save time, money and efforts for regular business people and consumers. These reforms may be painful but the countries that can do it, will be the future winners of their regional competition and they will be the ones that will most benefit from joining the global value chains. TFA is the best vehicle for poverty reduction invented so far and that is why it is so important.

In August, 2015, 14 African countries and 25 Asian countries had submitted notifications for category A provisions. Asian countries had “accepted” 72 % of all the provisions as A-Category commitments on average where the respective share of the African countries is only 35 %. On Article-level African countries lag behind on every Article except one (Table 1).

In addition to the low overall share of category A-notifications, the African notifications generally look like “random picks” of sub-paragraphs, compared to many Asian members that have commonly chosen the strategy of basically accepting the whole Agreement and making exceptions for certain few paragraphs according to their particular needs.

Were African governments well-informed of the impact and substance of each paragraph – or are they just being cautious, perhaps trying to delay the final commitment? The patterns between African and Asian countries are in any case different.

Table 1

TFA includes also “low hanging fruit” – sections that require little technical expertise to be implemented. At least some of these should have been easy for member countries to accept. “Publication and Availability of Information” is one of those sections. Access to information through internet is routine and affordable. It should not require transition periods or particular technical assistance. Donors are even competing to assist governments with such low cost and high-return activities. Still, less than one third of the African Governments notified this Article.

Here are some other peculiar findings:

  • Out of 14 African countries only Morocco accepted “Border Agency Cooperation” as A –Category provision. Three of the others countries that did not notify it are landlocked countries;
  • Only four out of 14 African countries had fully notified “Freedom of Transit.” Transit challenges in Africa are probably the single most significant source of inefficiency in trade logistics;
  • One of the foundations of modern customs management is the introduction of Risk Management. Only 3 out of 14 African countries had notified this provision;
  • Only Morocco notified Trade Facilitation Measures for Authorized Economic Operators (AEO), which gives certain privileges to traders and transport operators, who show high level of compliance to regulations. One wonders why Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania did not notify it as we know that an AEO program is being piloted in the East African Community;
  • Only Senegal notified the sub-Article on Single Window, which is probably the most important one of the whole Agreement. Senegal perhaps deserves this honor – being the first truly African-based single window country – and also representing the good practice of SW management. Yet, according to the African Alliance for e-Commerce, currently there are at least 16 other single windows either already operational or under development in Africa. Why weren’t these developments recognized?

Despite the above “peculiarities” the African situation is fortunately nowhere near as somber as the A-Category notifications indicate. There are plenty of trade and transport facilitation initiatives under implementation – and Africa is indeed “on the Move.” We should on one hand side make sure that the valuable TFA Agreement is not becoming a separate formal process alongside the practical actions on the ground, but rather a framework for coaching governments in climbing up the stairs toward greater competitiveness. On the other hand, the countries should not ignore the existing achievements. A lot has been achieved in Africa in recent years and this process should go on and gain speed. Some sub-regions, which have been less successful in this field need  benchmarks, encouraging and coaching. This is where African and international organizations can play a role.

Although the direct cost of TFA implementation is relatively low, the indirect cost may be extremely high. The indirect cost concerns existing structures, which generate income for organizations and individuals, who often greatly benefit from the status quo. Some governments have entered into concessions outsourcing critical government functions such as pre-customs clearance operations and processing and submissions of declarations to customs. Western firms have efficiently seized the opportunity and negotiated deals, which guarantee profits for in many cases for decades to come. Single Windows in certain countries are good examples for these. In an unnamed Southern African country for example, humanitarian aid is exempt from taxes and duties in import. If however a UN agency for example imports a container of pharmaceuticals worth five million USD, it will have to pay for a Single Window fee of 42,500 USD! Such Ad Valorem fee arrangements are against the TFA. Such concessions are often built inside structures, which profit from the concessions and in exchange – protects its operations and continuity. This is why they are difficult to tackle. This is an example of the problematics that African policy makers must deal with when taking a position in committing in TFA provisions. It may be a whole lot more complicated than what it looks like.

Association between % Share of Sub-Article Level A-Category Commitments and the Corruption Perception Index Score (CPI). Sources: WTO and transparency International.
Association between % Share of Sub-Article Level A-Category Commitments and the Corruption Perception Index Score (CPI). Sources: WTO and transparency International.

The diagram above shows the association of share of the provisions that have been covered by A-Category notifications and the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) score of the countries. For African countries the correlation is moderate (correlation co-efficient: 0.42) but for Asian countries the association is strong (correlation co-efficient: 0.73). The association of the two variables is understandable: the less corruption a country has (the higher the CPI rank is), the more reforms the government is in liberty to conduct (the higher coverage of TFA as A-category Notifications).

We need to better understand the underlying reasons why policymakers cannot let reforms take off. Traditions, corruption and outdated structures are usually the biggest obstacles. These cannot be overcome by merely providing short-term technical assistance and bench-marking the world best practices but only strong political leadership can make the change. Developing partners should raise this topic on the highest political level and “live together” through the reforms with the counterparts.

The Northern Corridor (Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda) provides an encouraging example how multiple reforms can be carried out in very short time. Only two years ago it took staggering 27 days to transport a container from Mombasa Port and deliver it in Kigali, Rwanda. Today it takes only seven days. The improvement was enabled by series of reforms, which were championed by the Heads of States of the Corridor member countries. The example proves that major improvements can indeed be achieved in very short time. On the other hand, even with the most sophisticated instruments, reforms will not succeed if there the high-level ownership is not there. Author: Tapio Naula

Important Implications of the WTO TFA on Landlocked Countries

WTO TFA implications for LLDCBackground

The Almaty Programme of Action (APoA): Addressing the Special Needs of Landlocked Developing Countries within a New Global Framework for Transit Transport Cooperation for Landlocked and Transit Developing Countries was adopted in 2003 as a response to the growing recognition by the international community of the special needs and challenges faced by the LLDCs. The Programme of Action emphasised five priority policy areas that landlocked and transit countries need to address to resolve the access problems of LLDCs: Transit policy and regulatory frameworks; Infrastructure development; International trade and trade facilitation; International support measures, and Implementation and review.

As one of the priority areas of the APoA, international trade and trade facilitation (streamlining customs and other border procedures) has taken on renewed focus, especially in light of the WTO Bali Ministerial Conference in December 2013, at which WTO members reached consensus on a Trade Facilitation Agreement, as part of the wider ‘Bali package’. As the end of the first ten years of the APoA is drawing to a close, the General Assembly of the United Nations decided to hold a comprehensive Ten-Year Review Conference of the APoA in 2014.

WCO TFA and Landlocked Countries

The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement sets out commitments that promote clear rules and procedures, many of which are of particular interest to LLDCs. The three most important provisions for LLDCs are Articles 11, 10,and 8. The first one deals specifically with freedom of transit, the second sets out obligations in relation to trade procedures including transit, and the third requires WTO members to cooperate with other members with which they share a common border.

Other TFA provisions of interest to the LLDCs include Articles 1-5 which addresses Publication and Transparency, including the availability of information; Article 2 which provides specific guidance on Consultations before Entry into Force; Article 6, which sets out Disciplines on Fees and Charges imposed on or in Connection with Import and Export and Article 7 which provides rules on Release and Clearance of Goods, including Trade Facilitation Measures for Authorised Operators. In the new Agreement, the obligations take three forms: Binding, Best Endeavour, or a Combination of both.

The TFA presents an opportunity for LLDCs to upgrade their systems, infrastructure and procedures as the Agreement encourages national trade facilitation improvements. Policymakers should therefore ensure that trade facilitation is included in national development plans given the cross cutting nature of trade facilitation. Using this approach, LLDCs will increase their ability to access resources tied to different funding windows, for example, assistance for general trade policy and regulations.

There are 16 Landlocked countries in Africa, which signifies the importance of the WTO TFA and its consequential impact on regional trade groupings.

The WTO TFA is an innovative agreement as it will provide capacity building to developing countries to allow them to undertake the implementation of the agreement where necessary. The Agreement addresses concerns about the implementation costs and capacity building constraints in developing and least developed countries that would be required to implement these rules. The Agreement allows each LLDC to design its TFA implementation plan and choose a timetable of compliance in accordance with its needs, capabilities and confirmed funding and technical assistance from development partners. Further, guidance is provided to WTO members on the domestic institutional arrangements that should be established to maximise the resources to be made available by donors, as well as the structures and systems that should be adhered to at the WTO Secretariat itself to ensure that the process of accessing TFA implementation support is transparent and inclusive.

It is essential to note that the Agreement specifies a strict national approach to implementation and makes no provision to resolve the issues which are closest to LLDCs interests, such as regional economic corridors, which fall outside the purview of the WTO’s multilateral disciplines. Despite this shortcoming, LLDCs will benefit from deepening their links and their involvement in fora supported by the development banks and bilateral agencies which fund these regional programmes. This will ensure that their interests are adequately reflected in the design of development plans for regional infrastructure improvements, regulatory reforms, technical assistance and capacity building.

Although the language of the TFA is legally binding in relation to some key aspects of freedom of transit, it has one important proviso. If an LLDC developing country neighbour denotes freedom of transit as a Category C obligation, it will only become justiciable and fully legally binding after the expiration of the transition date determined by that country and the delivery of suitable technical assistance by donors. Against this background, an optimal outcome for LLDCs would be that as many transit countries as possible register freedom of transit as a Category A obligation, as this would come into force immediately.

Read the full preparatory report on the Implications of the WTO ATF on Landlocked Developing Countries, available on the United Nations Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries website.

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Landmark East and Southern African Customs forum focuses on modernisation

WCO ESA_Snapseed

Participants from all 24 members of the WCO’s Eastern and South African region attended the forum. [SARS]

Customs officials from 24 eastern and southern African countries met in Pretoria this week to share knowledge and experience with regard to the successful modernisation of Customs administrations.

Opening the three-day forum, Erich Kieck, the World Customs Organisation’s Director for Capacity Building hailed it as a record breaking event.

“This is the first forum where all 24 members of the Eastern and Southern African region (ESA) of the WCO were all in attendance,” he noted. Also attending were officials from the WCO, SACU, the African Development Bank, Finland, the East African Community and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

Michael Keen in the 2003 publication “Changing Customs: Challenges and Strategies for the Reform of Customs Administrations” said – “the point of modernisation is to reduce impediments to trade – manifested in the costs of both administration incurred by government and compliance incurred by business – to the minimum consistent with the policy objectives that the customs administration is called on to implement, ensuring that the rules of the trade game are enforced with minimum further disruption”

The three-day event witnessed several case studies on Customs modernisation in the region, interspersed with robust discussion amongst members. The conference also received a keynote addressed by Mr. Xavier Carim, SA Representative to World Trade Organisation (WTO), which provided first hand insight to delegates on recent events at Bali and more specifically the WTO’s Agreement on Trade Facilitation.

The WCO’s Capacity Building Directorate will be publishing a compendium of case studies on Customs Modernisation in the ESA region during the course of 2014.

WCO ESA members – Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Swaziland, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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Source: SARS

Business Guide for Developing Countries – WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement

Picture2The International Trade Centre has prepared a guide to help businesses take advantage of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. The agreement simplifies customs procedures, allowing businesses to become more competitive. This jargon-free guide explains the provisions with a focus on what businesses need to know to take advantage of the agreement. It will also help policy makers identify their needs for technical assistance to implement and monitor it. To download the guide – click the following link: http://www.intracen.org/wto-trade-facilitation-agreement-business-guide-for-developing-countries/.

For instance, the guide explains how the article on ‘Advance rulings’ aims to address problems with inconsistent classification of goods by customs officials and the uncertainty it creates for traders. ‘Advance rulings are binding decisions by customs…on the classification and origin of the goods in preparation for importation or exportation. Advance rulings facilitate the declaration and consequently the release and clearance process, as the classification has already been determined in the advance ruling and is binding to all customs officers for a period of time,’ the guide explains. It goes on to list in jargon-free language the obligations and the procedure imposed on customs authorities related to advance rulings.

Reducing the on-the-spot decision making authority of individual customs agents thanks to advance rulings will also reduce bribery, the guide says. Corruption continues to be a key problem for developing-country exporters, who identified it as a major constraint on exports in a recent survey conducted by ITC.

The last chapter of the guide describes how the agreement will be implemented, including the special and differential treatment provisions that developing countries may invoke. Developing countries will be able to link the implementation of the commitments to technical assistance and support from donors. WTO member states will have to explicitly apply for delays for each commitment, which will need to be approved by the WTO and the implementation schedule published.

Source: International Trade Centre