EAC urged to embrace IT solutions and reduce red tape in order to spur trade

Inefficient border procedures are leading revenue losses of over 5 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product in some African countries, a roundtable conference on trade facilitation at the East African Community (EAC) headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania, has heard.

Speaking at the one-day conference on Thursday, James Kisaale, an assistant commissioner at Uganda Revenue Authority, urged sub-Saharan Africa countries, including EAC members, to embrace formalities like automation, as well as simplify and harmonise documents, and ease access to information to help lower cost of trade.

Citing a 2013 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report, Kisaale said reducing global trade costs by one per cent would increase global income by more than $40 billion, with developing countries being the biggest beneficiaries.

Organised by the EAC Secretariat to review and fast-track the implementation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Trade Facilitation (TFA), the roundtable brought together EAC development partners, as well as customs and trade experts from the EAC Secretariat and member states’ ministries of trade. The conference brought together development partners who will work with the EAC in the implementation of the TFA.

While opening the roundtable, the EAC director general for customs and trade, Kenneth Bagamuhunda, said trade facilitation was an integral part of the EAC Customs Union Protocol which explicitly provides for reduction in the number and volume of trade documents.

“Trade facilitation also provides for the adoption of common standards of trade documentation and procedures, coordination and facilitation of trade and transport activities. There is also the reviewing of procedures adopted in international trade and transport facilitation with a view to simplifying and adopting them for use in the EAC,” he said.

The official disclosed that an EAC trade facilitation sub-committee has been established to supervise the implementation of the WTO TFA at regional and national levels.

He said regional and national implementation plans for the WTO TFA have been finalised and adopted by the policy organs. “Amendments to regional laws, regulations and procedures; development of project proposals for resource mobilisation, and sensitisation of stakeholders is currently underway,” he added.

Bagamuhunda cited the single customs territory and the interconnectivity of customs systems among some of the key TFA components that have been implemented by the EAC.

“The single customs territory provides for the free circulation of goods, reduces the cost of doing business, reduces non-tariff barriers, ensures competitiveness, boosts business predictability and promotes investment,” he said, adding it is premised on the use of electronic systems.

Other components already implemented are the establishment of one-stop border posts, harmonisation of standards, reduction of non-tariff barriers, and publication of the EAC trade and investment report.

Speaking at the event, Amb Arthur Mattli, Switzerland’s representative to the EAC, said that bureaucratic delays and red tapes pose an unnecessary and expensive burden for moving goods across borders.

Amb Mattli said the TFA would help developing countries diversify their exports and tap into global value chains. He disclosed that Switzerland had so far disbursed $3.5 million as part of its contribution to the TFA’s trade facilitation support programme, a multi-donor programme of the World Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice which provides support to countries seeking assistance in aligning their trade practices with the WTO TFA.

Source: TradeMark East Africa