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Africa seeks ways to make international trade cheaper, faster and easier

Complex, time-consuming and inefficient import and export procedures are a major barrier to trade and hamper development, especially for low and middle-income countries.

In response, African countries seeking to make interregional and international trade in goods and services cheaper, quicker and more straightforward will gather for the First African Forum for National Trade Facilitation Committees in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 27–29 November.

The landmark event, organized by UNCTAD and seven partner organizations including UNECE, comes as Africa scales up its trade-easing efforts after the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement entered into force in February 2017 and as they prepare to implement the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement signed in March 2018.

A central tenet of the Trade Facilitation Agreement is the obligation of each country to set up a National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) with both public and private sector stakeholders to facilitate both domestic coordination and implementation of the provisions of this agreement.

With well-functioning NTFCs, countries will be able to make trade, easier, faster and cheaper. For developing countries, and especially least developed countries – the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa – implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement could lead to a reduction in trade costs of up to 15%.

“The Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), hosted at UNECE, has been a pioneer of trade facilitation. For many decades, it has been developing policy recommendations, standards and guidelines, including for the establishment and operation of trade facilitation bodies. UNECE stands ready to join forces with international partners to support countries’ efforts for effective integration in the international trading system”, highlighted UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova.

The recommendations and guidelines developed by UN/CEFACT are a key reference for advisory services to NTFCs in the African region provided by partner organisations, like UNCTAD and ITC. UNECE has also joined UNCTAD and other partners in training NTFCs and assisting them in the development of National Trade Facilitation Roadmaps. This has been the case for Benin, Gabon, Cameroon, and Sudan.

Furthermore, UNECE has supported Morocco, Nigeria, Mozambique and Senegal for the establishment and operation of their Single Windows and Port Community Systems, with real impact in terms of time and money saved. For example, thanks to Senegal’s Single Window system, the time associated with the custom clearance process has been cut by 50%, from an average of 18 to just 9 days. In the first three years of the system’s mandatory use in the country, customs’ revenue collection increased from USD 625 million to more than USD 1 billion.

Correctly implemented trade facilitation measures not only boost trade but also improve revenue collection, safety and security compliance controls (for example, improving food safety) and can help to streamline government agencies.

Such reforms help small traders, often women, enter the formal sector, make economic activities more transparent and accountable, promote good governance, generate better quality employment, strengthen information technology capabilities and generally modernize societies by bringing about benefits related to administrative efficiency. Trade facilitation reforms are also positive steps towards human, enterprise and institutional development.

For these benefits to be realized it is essential that the Trade Facilitation Agreement is implemented as foreseen. According to the WTO, the rate of implemented commitments under the agreement as of October 2018 stood at 60% – but broken down by level of development a new picture emerges, with developed countries having achieved 100% of commitments, developing countries having achieved 60% of commitments and least developed countries just 22% of commitments.

The Forum is the result of close collaboration between multilateral and international organizations and is supported by several bilateral donors. The alliance showcases the collaborative effort of these institutions and donors to assist in moving forward opportunities for developing and least developed countries to integrate in globalized trade.

Topics covered during the three-day event include the role of the African regional organizations, the role of NTFCs in the implementation of trade facilitation provisions in the AfCFTA, paperless initiatives at entry points, the involvement of the private sector in NTFCs, how to coordinate border agencies, and the role of transit corridors. There will also be sessions on the gender dimension in cross-border trade, and the application of digital technologies in future modes of trading.

The forum is co-organized by:

  • UNCTAD
  • United Nations Economic Commission for Africa
  • United Nations Economic Commission for Europe / Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business
  • International Trade Centre
  • World Bank Group
  • World Trade Organization
  • World Customs Organization
  • Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation

 

For more information, please visit: https://unctad.org/en/conferences/NTFC-Forum-Africa/Pages/default.aspx