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Temporary suspension of import tariffs on medical products and equipment essential amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa

By Talkmore Chidede
07 Apr 2020
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Temporary suspension of import tariffs on medical products and equipment essential amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa

Most African countries do not produce medical products and equipment needed to fight the Coronavirus (COVID-19) including soaps or surface-active agents, respiratory masks, protective spectacles, garments, suits and gloves. South Africa is the biggest African producer and exporter of such products but does not produce enough for the whole continent; and it has recently introduced export restrictions of COVID-19 related products[1] including alcohol-based hand sanitizers, face-masks and hydroxychloroquine. African countries are therefore reliant on imports sourced mainly from other non-African countries including China, India, Spain, Switzerland, the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) (International Trade Centre (ITC) TradeMap).

According to data reported to the ITC Market Access Map, virtually all African governments impose tariffs on one or more of such products needed to tackle COVID-19 (see Table 1).[2] Most of the countries impose average MFN tariffs between 11%-30%, while others even impose tariffs higher than 31% on these products.

Comoros and Sao Tome and Principe levy average MFN tariffs on surface-active agents (e.g. sanitisers) less than 10%; Algeria, Djibouti, Malawi as well as SACU and EAC countries impose duties above 10% but less than 30%; Cabo Verde and Angola impose duties exceeding 30%.

On surgical, plastic and rubber gloves Angola and Sao Tome and Principe levy average MFN duties less than 10%, while Algeria, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Zimbabwe, DRC, Comoros, Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritania and Tunisia charge import duties exceeding 10%.

Angola and Sao Tome and Principe impose average MFN duties less than 10% on personal protective equipment or clothing; the rest charge tariffs exceeding 10% and are even higher than 30% in Cabo Verde, Ethiopia, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Customs duties on imports of essential medical products and equipment could affect the movement and accessibility of such products during this COVID-19 pandemic, and further exacerbate the spread of the virus. They may contribute to higher costs of these at a time of global health crisis. Tariffs are an essential source of government revenue for some African countries, but at this time of crisis it is important to consider the impact of tariffs on access to essential medical products. Many countries are responding to the crisis with temporary suspension of customs tariffs on essential medical products and equipment. Zimbabwe is said to have waived import duties on COVID-19 materials. Zambia has suspended excise duties on imported ethanol for use in alcohol-based sanitisers and other medicine related. Outside the continent, European Commission has approved EU Member States’ (including the UK) requests to temporarily waive customs duties and VAT on the import of medical devices, and protective equipment, from third countries in order to help in the fight against coronavirus. Countries can unilaterally liberalise their trade, by reducing tariffs, provided that this is done in a non-discriminatory manner.[3] Temporary suspension of customs tariffs have been adopted through domestic trade laws (e.g. China) or Presidential discretionary powers (e.g. US) and customs union laws (e.g. the EU).

In addition to tariffs, other non-tariff issues (e.g. cargo clearance delays or import procedures or requirements that directly or indirectly limit or hinder imports) could also affect the ease movement of medical supplies and equipment. African governments should also ensure these non-tariff issues are addressed to expedite the access the medical supplies where they are needed the most. SADC, for example, has adopted regional pdf Guidelines on Harmonisation and Facilitation of Cross Border Transport Operations across the Region During the COVID-19 Pandemic (390 KB) . The Guidelines, among other things, seek to facilitate interstate flow of essential goods such as fuel, food, medical equipment and medicines including medical supplies and Personal Protection Equipment, and agricultural inputs. The Guidelines also recommend member states to simplify and automate trade and transport facilitation processes, introduce or enhance pre-clearance of goods and single window processing, and accelerate the creation of online applications and platforms for the processing, clearances of imports and exports, application, issuance and renewals of licences and permits, registration of drivers, operators, vehicles and loads, payment of fees and for information dissemination and sharing.

It would also be necessary to adopt regulations criminalizing (or designed to curtail) unjust price hikes, production or trade of counterfeit and pirated medical products and equipment such as hand sanitisers, diagnostic equipment, respiratory masks, protective clothes and gloves. Botswana, for example, has invited reports of unfair trade practices, predatory price increases and violation of trade regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Table 1: Tariffs (MFN average) on selected medical products and equipments for African countries

Product

1%-10%

11%-30%

> 30%

Soap organic surface-active products and preparations for use as soap,

340120; 340130; 340111

Comoros; Sao Tome and Principe

Algeria; Angola; Botswana; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; DRC; Djibouti; Egypt; Equatorial Guinea; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Gabon; Kenya; Lesotho; Liberia; Madagascar; Malawi; Mauritania; Mauritius; Morocco; Mozambique; Namibia; Rwanda; South Africa; Tanzania; Tunisia; Zambia

Benin; Burkina Faso; Cabo Verde; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Niger; Nigeria; Senegal; Sudan; Togo; Uganda; Zimbabwe

Surface-active preparations, washing & cleaning preparations

340220

Comoros; Mauritius;

Sao Tome and Principe

Algeria; Botswana; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo; Djibouti; Equatorial Guinea; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Gabon; Kenya; Lesotho; Liberia; Madagascar; Malawi; Mauritania; Morocco; Mozambique; Namibia; Rwanda; South Africa; Tanzania; Tunisia; Uganda; Zambia

Angola; Benin; Burkina Faso; Cabo Verde; Ivory Coast; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Mali; Niger; Nigeria; Senegal; Sudan; Togo; Zimbabwe; Egypt

Surface-active agents

340290

Comoros; Congo; Madagascar; Sao Tome and Principe; Uganda; Zambia

Algeria; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; DRC; Ivory Coast; Djibouti; Egypt; Equatorial Guinea; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Lesotho; Liberia; Malawi; Mali; Mauritania; Morocco; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; South Africa; Tanzania; Togo; Tunisia; Zimbabwe

Angola; Cabo Verde; Sudan

Gloves made of all types of textile materials

621600

Angola; Sao Tome and Principe

Algeria; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Comoros; DRC; Ivory Coast; Djibouti; Egypt; Equatorial Guinea; Eswatini; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana

Guinea; Guinea; Bissau; Kenya; Lesotho; Liberia; Madagascar; Malawi; Mauritania; Morocco; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; South Africa; Tanzania; Togo; Tunisia; Uganda; Zambia

Cabo Verde; Ethiopia; Sudan; Zimbabwe

Plastic gloves

392620

Angola; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Ivory Coast; Eswatini; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Lesotho; Liberia; Madagascar; Mauritius; Morocco; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Sao Tome and Principe; Senegal; South Africa; Togo

Algeria; Burundi; Cabo Verde; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Comoros; DRC; Djibouti; Egypt; Equatorial Guinea; Ethiopia; Gabon; Kenya; Malawi; Mauritania; Mozambique; Rwanda; Tanzania; Tunisia; Uganda; Zambia

Sudan; Zimbabwe

Surgical gloves

401511

Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; DRC;

Egypt; Equatorial Guinea; Ethiopia; Mauritania; Morocco; Sao Tome and Principe; Sudan; Zimbabwe

Algeria; Botswana; Comoros; Djibouti; Eswatini; Lesotho; Namibia; South Africa; Tunisia

 

Male garments made of fabrics, rubber or plastic

621040

Angola; Sao Tome and Principe

Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Comoros; DRC; Ivory Coast; Djibouti; Egypt; Equatorial Guinea; Eswatini; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Lesotho; Liberia; Madagascar; Malawi; Mauritania; Morocco; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; South Africa; Tanzania; Togo; Tunisia; Uganda; Zambia

Cabo Verde; Ethiopia; Sudan; Zimbabwe

Male tracksuits swimwear or ski suits made of cotton

621132

Angola; Sao Tome and Principe

Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Comoros; DRC; Ivory Coast; Djibouti; Equatorial Guinea; Eswatini; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Lesotho; Liberia; Madagascar; Malawi; Mauritania

Morocco; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; South Africa; Tanzania; Togo; Tunisia; Uganda; Zambia

Cabo Verde; Egypt; Ethiopia; Sudan

Male tracksuit, ski suits and swimwear made of other textile materials

621139

Angola; Sao Tome and Principe

Algeria; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Comoros; DRC; Ivory Coast; Egypt; Djibouti; Equatorial Guinea; Eswatini; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Lesotho; Liberia; Madagascar; Malawi; Mauritania; Morocco; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; South Africa; Tanzania; Togo; Tunisia; Uganda; Zambia

Cabo Verde; Ethiopia; Sudan; Zimbabwe

Female garments made fabrics, rubber or plastic

621050

Angola; Sao Tome and Principe

Algeria; Benin; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Comoros; DRC; Ivory Coast; Djibouti; Egypt; Equatorial Guinea; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Liberia; Madagascar; Malawi; Mauritania; Morocco; Mozambique; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; Tanzania; Togo; Tunisia; Uganda; Zambia

Botswana; Cabo Verde; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Lesotho; Namibia; South Africa; Sudan; Zimbabwe

Female tracksuits, swimwear or ski suits made of cotton

621142

Angola; Sao Tome and Principe

Benin; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Comoros; DRC; Ivory Coast; Djibouti; Equatorial Guinea; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Liberia; Madagascar; Malawi; Mauritania; Morocco; Mozambique; Niger; Nigeria; Senegal; Togo; Tunisia; Zambia

Botswana; Burundi; Cabo Verde

Egypt; Eswatini

Ethiopia; Lesotho

Namibia; Rwanda

South Africa; Sudan

Tanzania; Uganda

Female tracksuits, swimwear or ski suits made of textile materials not wool, cotton, animal hair

621149

Angola; Sao Tome and Principe

Benin; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Comoros; DRC; Ivory Coast; Djibouti

Egypt; Equatorial Guinea; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Liberia; Madagascar; Malawi; Mauritania; Morocco; Mozambique; Niger

Nigeria; Senegal; Togo; Tunisia; Zambia

Botswana; Burundi

Cabo Verde; Eswatini

Ethiopia; Lesotho

Namibia; Rwanda

South Africa; Sudan

Tanzania; Uganda

Garments made of knitted or crocheted felt, non-women and twine fabrics

611300

Angola; Sao Tome and Principe

Algeria; Benin; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cabo Verde; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Comoros; DRC; Ivory Coast; Djibouti; Egypt; Equatorial Guinea; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Liberia; Madagascar; Malawi; Mauritania; Morocco; Mozambique; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; Tanzania; ; Togo; Tunisia; Uganda; Zambia

Botswana; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Kenya; Lesotho

Namibia; South Africa; Sudan; Zimbabwe

Breathing appliances and gas masks

920000

Algeria; Benin; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; DRC; Ivory Coast; Egypt; Equatorial Guinea; Ethiopia; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Liberia; Mauritania

Morocco; Mozambique; Niger; Sao Tome and Principe; Sudan; Togo; Zimbabwe

Djibouti

 

[1]  pdf Covid-19 Export Control Regulation - 27 March 2020 (278 KB)

[2] Most countries last reported their applied tariffs to the ITC in 2019. Ethiopia, Gambia, Liberia, Mozambique and Zambia last reported in 2018; Central African Republic and Sudan in 2017; Chad and Nigeria in 2016; Tunisia and Zimbabwe in 2015; Djibouti in 2014; and Equatorial Guinea in 2007. Failure or reluctance to record up-to-date tariff records creates uncertainty for exporters and hinders cross border trade.

[3]  pdf Commission Decision on relief from import duties and VAT exemption on importation granted for goods needed to combat the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak during 2020 (148 KB)

About the Author(s)

Talkmore Chidede

Talkmore Chidede

Talkmore Chidede holds a Doctor of Laws (LL.D) degree in International Investment Law from the University of the Western Cape. Talkmore also holds a Master of Laws (LL.M) degree (Cum Laude) in International Trade and Investment Law and a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) degree, both from the University of Fort Hare. His research interests include international investment law, international trade law, regional economic integration and international commercial arbitration.

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