Technical innovations help smash barriers to cross border trade in East Africa

The mobile phone has become a critical platform for elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers in TZ.

One of the biggest challenges the business community in East Africa face are non-tariff barriers. According to the East Africa Community, non-tariff barriers (NTB’s) cost the member countries close to US$490 million in 2010.  Some of them like land border procedures; port procedures, police roadblocks, weighbridges and bureaucratic administrative procedures restrict trade and consequently increase the cost of doing trade.

To overcome this challenge, the Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA) with support from TradeMark Africa (TMA) introduced a NTBs SMS reporting system, an innovative tool that allows truckers, transporters, clearing and forwarding agents, report any obstacles along the road. Once a user lodges an SMS complaint, focal points from TCCIA relevant departments immediately call the sender and automatically notify responsible government agencies and private sector of the NTB complaint for further action.

Truck drivers like Juma Ahmed recognise the benefit of the SMS system saying, “This SMS text messaging system will help report some problems I experience. For example, when taking my load from Dar es Salaam to Kampala; each weighbridge records something different to what I have on my documents, which means I am often held up until we come to some sort of agreement regarding the axel load.” Partners have been raising awareness on the SMS texting system and there exists an even greater opportunity to train people on how to effectively use it.

The online NTBs SMS system encourages a sense of accountability and urges the relevant agencies to respond in a timely manner. “We have been engaged with promoting the system, raising awareness on how to use it and giving training to create awareness“, said Elibariki Shammy the TCCIA NTB Project Coordinator. “We also went on site visits to see what was happening on the ground at weighbridges, which are a notorious hot spot for NTBs,” he added. “In one month, we received 87 NTB-related cases, 54% were resolved and the remaining cases are at different levels of elimination. 8% of issues are related to Electronic Certificates of Origin,” Shammy said.

Prior to the system, truck drivers or transporters would have to write a letter of complaint to the ministry, this was not only time consuming but also had a high probability of no reply.  “If a consignment of perishable goods was held up at the border, this could render the entire lot unusable. It took too long to sort out a problem.”

At the Ministry of Industry Trade and Investments (MITI), Zavery Mdemu, NTB coordinator consultant said, “Positive developments to NTBs implemented by the national monitoring committee (NMC) are starting to show.” There is a modern weighbridge in Vigwaza about 100 kilometres from Dar es Salaam, in the South West direction towards Rwanda, which operates a weigh-in-motion mechanism. This allows the truck to pass through and be weighed at the same time. Zavery Mdemu projects that with TMA support similar services will be experienced in Mnyoni and Nyakanazi where construction of modern weighbridges is ongoing.

Covert surveillance operations

In order to tackle NTBs, the MITI have carried out three (3) undercover operations to experience first-hand, what is happening on the ground. “We have carried out surveillance to see what the barriers are, along the Central Corridor,” said Mr Mdemu, who has worked for the Ministry for more than 10 years. “The Ministry sent an officer disguised as a mechanic with a truck driver from Tanzania to Rwanda and they were stopped 107 times,” he added.

Things have changed for the better with the NMC carrying out regular surveillance operations of the Central Corridor.  In May 2015 the Ministry sent officers again and also representatives from the private sector on a ten-day trip with the Tanzania Freight Forwarders Association (TAFFA).

“We went with a Rwandan truck driver carrying fuel, the tanker broke down so we joined a truck carrying cement to Rwanda instead. On this trip, we learned that we must address ‘rent-seeking’ practices along the route. In some areas we passed, the drivers were required by some public officers to pay 1,000 TZS (US$ 0.5 cents) per truck. If they didn’t pay up then the inspection officers would find some kind of fault with the truck. The report from the operation was discussed openly at the next NMC meeting and it identified which department or institution is responsible for the non-tariff barriers. The issue was then dealt with head-on and we initiated action to amend the law and to issue better instructions so that particular NTBs are addressed,” Mdemu said.