Burundi cross-border traders tipped on how to report trade barriers on a mobile phone app

The East African Community (EAC) Secretariat and TradeMark Africa’s Burundi Programme conducted a two-day training on Non-Tarriff Barriers (NTBs) for Burundi’s cross border trade participants. Held on April 15-16, 2024, the training enlightened attendees on identifying, monitoring, and reporting obstacles to trade using the newly launched EAC-NTBs mobile app, which is designed to streamline the reporting and resolution of trade barriers.

A cross-border trader trying out the NTBs monitoring and reporting mobile app

A cross-border trader trying out the NTBs monitoring and reporting mobile app

Participants included stakeholders operating at the Kobero OSBP such as customs officials, border police, freight forwarders, clearing agents, and representatives from trade associations including truck drivers and women traders. Many of the trainees explored the app’s features for the first time, and were keen to understand what constitutes NTBs and how they could be equipped to accurately document or report them in EAC-NTBs mobile system for quick resolution. “These awareness trainings are part of the collaborative efforts to accelerate the operationalisation, user uptake and engagements on the EAC-NTB Barriers mobile app, which is designed to ease the reporting and elimination of NTBs in region, removing pointless encumbrances to trade. The goal is to enhance intra-EAC trade,” said Christian Nibasumba, TMA Burundi Country Representative.

A 2023 report by the EAC Regional Meeting Committee highlighted the economic impact of NTBs estimated at around$16.7 million. The report also detailed the status of unresolved NTBs in member countries, noting several pending cases in Tanzania and Uganda. NTBs are obstacles to international trade that are not related to export or import duties and can take the form of import quotas, subsidies, customs delays, and technical barriers hindering trade, among others.

Prisca Mbaga, EAC Senior Trade Officer delivering the EAC-NTBs app training.4

Prisca Mbaga, EAC Senior Trade Officer delivering the EAC-NTBs app training

Prisca Mbaga, Senior Trade Officer at the EAC Secretariat, underscored the role of streamlined customs and administrative procedures in facilitating trade. “Efficient and non-prohibitive processes are essential. When these become obstacles, they impede free trade and raise the cost and time of cross-border trade, qualifying as NTBs. The app allows traders to report such barriers and attach evidence for follow-up and expedited resolution,” she explained.

Development of the EAC-NTB mobile app, was funded by the Netherlands and is housed at the EAC Secretariat. USAID contributed to its launch and operationalisation. The app was officially launched in December 2023 and has since enabled stakeholders to report various administrative and procedural barriers, including imports bans, import licensing, rules of origin issues, costly or lengthy customs procedures, poor testing and inspection facilities, administrative fees and levies excluding tariffs, lacing of clarity on border procedures, to name but a few.

Some of the traders attending the EAC-NTBs app training

Some of the traders attending the EAC-NTBs app training

Reflecting on the challenges traders face, Ndizeye Bobby Jean Marie Director, Customs, Trade, Industry and Investments at the Ministry of EAC Affairs in Burundi, noted the app’s real time reporting capability to a centralised team at the EAC Secretariat, could dramatically enhance responsiveness.

Denise Nyandwi, OBR’s Head of Office and Customs Operations Unit at Kobero, called for continuous trainings on customs valuation methods, the Common External Tarriff and the rules of origin, to reduce misunderstanding and misconceptions of what constitutes NTBs.

The EAC-NTB app marks a major step toward in simplifying and securing trade across the East African region, promising a more dynamic and integrated economic landscape.