COVID-19 Control Measures in SADC – Striking a balance between control and Trade Facilitation
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have not spared the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and like in all other parts of the world, economies of the member states have suffered from the various measures that are being imposed to try and contain the spread of the virus. While member states have, legitimately imposed restrictions to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus, there is need to ensure that trade facilitation does not suffer in the process. This Blog discusses guidelines issued by SADC to its members, and also considers the measures that have been put in place by individual member states to facilitate trade while controlling the spread of the virus.
The first COVID-19 case in the SADC Region was reported in early March 2020 and on the 6th April 2020 SADC issued Guidelines to its members on pdf Harmonisation and Facilitation of Cross Border Operations across the Region during the COVID-19 Pandemic (532 KB) . To reflect ongoing COVID-19 developments and the management of the pandemic these pdf Guidelines were revised on the 23rd June 2020 (532 KB) . When the guidelines were issued the major aim was to facilitate the movement of COVID-19 related goods as well as other essential goods as agreed between and among member states.
At the beginning of the pandemic most SADC member countries restricted movement of non-essential goods. The effect of this was immediately felt as industries started running out of essential raw materials and in some countries food shortages started to be felt as supermarkets ran out of basic commodities. The main focus was the movement of food, fuel, agricultural supplies and COVID-19 related goods which greatly affected other Sectors of the members’ economies. Goods were delayed at sea Ports and Ports of Entry as member states imposed their own measures to contain the spread of the virus.
The SADC Guidelines also call for automation and simplification of processes to facilitate fast movement of goods in the region. This includes measures like automating clearance processes, licence and permit issuance, introduction of pre-clearance of goods and the single window concept. These measures are meant to ensure that cargo does not spend extended periods at the Ports of entry to alleviate any shortages that can take place in the countries in which the goods are needed. Where these measures have been adopted, goods have moved swiftly across borders. However, challenges have been experienced where COVID-19 related measures were imposed on the crewmembers; including testing for COVID-19.
To ensure smooth flow of traffic and cargo SADC member states are encouraged to share information with other members through the SADC Secretariat on various COVID-19 related measures that they are implementing that may affect trade facilitation. This includes issues like customs clearance procedures, any restrictions on specific goods, routes to be followed by trucks in transit, any designated facilities for example re-fuelling stations, check points and parking facilities. This allows traders from the various member states to prepare and comply with the requirements to avoid any delays.
Governments are expected to ensure that ports of entry remain open and provide Personal Protective Equipment [PPE] to all frontline workers which include Customs, Immigration, Law Enforcement Agency and other Government Border Agency officers.
Trade facilitation should be encouraged by making sure that Ports of Entry have facilities that reduce the spread of the virus and all safety precautions should be taken to curb the spread of the Virus and protect the truck drivers and crews passing through them. This should ensure continued smooth movement of goods across the region during the period of the pandemic. The SADC guidelines also place some responsibilities on transport operators to ensure that their drivers and crew are tested for COVID-19, follow designated routes through use of tracking systems, not to carry unauthorised passengers and to follow all recommended procedures to curb the spread of the disease.
In recognition of the realities that may be posed by COVID-19 on the ground the Guidelines encourage Law Enforcement Agencies from member countries to treat the offences of documents, permits or licences that expire en-route due to delays related to COVID-19 with leniency. This is meant to ensure that there are no additional fines and delays that may affect trade facilitation. Member states are encouraged to form National Transport and Trade Facilitation Committees or similar bodies to ensure the movement of cargo is not interrupted across the Region. To ensure continued movement of cargo it is recommended that transport operators be allowed to send back-up crews in the event of the crew testing positive to the virus.
The Guidelines as summarised above seek to facilitate trade across the SADC Region during the COVID-19 period. They encourage member states to ensure that their actions do not affect trade and the movement of cargo between and among members. During the 40th SADC summit held between the 10th and 17th August 2020, the SADC Council of Ministers called for coordinated measures to mitigate impact of COVID-19 and spoke of the importance of ensuring that measures adopted do not seriously impact the movement of goods during the COVID-19 period.
In addition to these guidelines from SADC, member states have also introduced additional measures to curb the spread of the virus while ensuring that trade facilitation is not affected. These are summarised below:
Summary of Trade Facilitation measures taken by SADC countries
Sources: Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility, SADC COVID-19 Measures, ITC MacMap, tralac
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