PUBLISHED ON March 1st, 2023

Three RECs resolve about 90% of non-tariff barriers to ease trading as ECOWAS lags

No less than 716 out of 796 (88.9%) of NTBs registered in the online reporting system implemented by the three regional economic communities (RECs), COMESA, East African Community and the Southern Africa Development Community have been resolved, leaving only 80 NTBs left unresolved.

The main NTBs include restrictive licensing, permitting, and other requirements applied at the border. Barriers behind the border, such as unwarranted technical barriers to trade and sanitary and phytosanitary measures are equally prevalent.

For the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region, the challenge has been various NTBs in the form of infrastructure, language, movement of people and goods among others.

African Union Commission Deputy Chairperson Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa, in a recent report on visa openness, noted that human mobility is key to Africa’s integration efforts, as such, any limitation discourages innovation and stymies the formation of regional value chains.

“It is not enough to agree on rules of origin that promote ‘Made in Africa’ products. For the AfCFTA to succeed, non-tariff barriers to trade must be dismantled, too.

“Among other things, Africans must be free to move around the continent without being denied the right to board on planes, applying for costly and time-consuming visas, which are not readily available electronically, to study, trade, and develop their businesses,” Nsanzabaganwa said.

Also, the African Development Bank Group Acting Vice President in charge of Regional Development, Integration, and Business Delivery, Marie-Laure Akin-Olugbade, remarked that the free movement of people creates business and stimulates intra- and interregional trade.

“We understand that freeing the movement of people creates a more favourable business environment, attracts investment, and stimulates intra- and interregional trade. It also promotes social cohesion and improves African citizens’ quality of life. Africa deserves nothing less.”

The tripartite NTBs Online and SMS Reporting, Monitoring and Eliminating system has been operational since 2010 and has remained an effective tool in the resolution of cross-border trade challenges. It was established to support market integration by implementing a harmonized NTBs elimination programme in the COMESA, EAC and SADC tripartite region.

The online system is designed to receive online and Short Message/Messaging Service (SMS) complaints from public users. It comprises three sub systems for each REC (COMESA, EAC, SADC). Anyone with access to the internet can submit a complaint into the system.

Reports on NTBs made on the system are dealt with by National Monitoring Committees (NMCs) and National Focal Points (NFPs), whose contribution to the resolution and elimination of NTBs in the Tripartite region has been effective. Subsequently, COMESA Director of Trade and Customs Dr Chris Onyango has called upon Partner/Member States, which have not yet established the NMCs and designated National Focal Points to do so as a matter of priority.

“NTBs evolve over time, hence becoming a single most hindrance to intra-regional trade and an easy option to deter or restrict trade. They therefore require persistent vigilance and commitment by all stakeholders, especially members of the national monitoring committees,” he said when he addressed the second meeting of the Tripartite NMCs and NTBs Focal Points on 20 February 2023.

As the tariff walls came down in the global and regional trading arena, the Director noted, NTBs continued to thrive and emerge in different forms in the Tripartite region.

“This makes your roles very pertinent in managing cross-border and international trade,” he told the delegates who attended the virtual meeting.

The meeting also discussed the modalities of handing over the hosting and management of the NTBs online reporting system to the Tripartite RECs to complete the development of Non- Tariff Measures (NTMs) databases for Tripartite Member/Partner States and further improvements in the system. The system has been managed by the developer since inception.

This meeting also reviewed the establishment and operationalization of NTBs institutions for the management /administration of the Online NTBs/NTMs systems in the RECs and Member/Partner States.

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