PUBLISHED ON July 20th, 2023

Comesa, govt admit non-tariff barriers hindering trade

Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) have admitted non-tariff barriers (NTBs) continue to affect trade, a development that has compelled the two institutions to engage an extra gear to protect traders.

Lately, cross border businesses in Malawi have singled out NTBs such as excessive import documents or unjustified packaging requirements as one of the key challenges in intra-Africa trade, ultimately affecting business profitability and revenues.

But director of trade in goods in the Ministry of Trade and Industry Charity Musonzo in an interview on the sidelines of an awareness workshop on NTBs reporting mechanisms on Tuesday said the ministry has taken the lead to ensure that traders are protected.

She said: “NTBs are a big hindrance to trade. Most challenges include arbitrary charges. We are, therefore, participating in the tripartite arrangement which is a grouping of Comesa, Southern Africa Development Community and the Eastern African Community in which every trader is required to report the NTBs through the online system.

“We have focal points at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Malawi Investment Trade Centre and the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry to collect NTBs and send them to the secretariat to resolve the same.”

On her part, Comesa senior customs affairs officer Balness Sumani also observed that the prevalence of reported and unreported NTBs, have partly been responsible for the constrained intra-regional trade.

She said: “Currently, the rate of intra-regional trade is minimal, at seven percent, partly due to the NTBs. Following the removal of tariffs under the regional trade agreement countries are imposing NTBs to trade. This is why we came up with regulations and tools which include the online and SMS tool to resolve those NTBs to trade to resolve those tools.”

According to Sumani, the online reporting system which started operations in 2010 has seen 90 percent of the reported NTBs resolved leaving 10 percent of NTBs unresolved.

Weighing in, Cross-border Traders Association of Malawi president Steve Yohane, admitted that most Malawian traders are losing out on trade despite the preferential trade regimes provisions due to the NTBs.

“Lack of information among traders and some government agencies on provisions that are meant to ease trading burdens such as the preferential trade regimes remain a critical issue for most traders. It takes those with experience to demand for these on the borders but for those that are unaware lose out on the same.

“It is however pleasing that we are having this engagement which will go a long way in ensuring that we have a platform were we can report such issues and they are resolved. Such engagements are critical as they go a long way in ensuring that traders are aware of the provisions and accordingly where need be,” he said.

According to available data, to date, intra-Comesa NTBs constitute 21.9 percent of total NTBs reported in the Tripartite Online reporting, monitoring and eliminating mechanism.

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