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SADC Regional Agricultural Policy: addressing non-tariff barriers on agricultural trade


SADC Regional Agricultural Policy: addressing non-tariff barriers on agricultural trade

Willemien Viljoen, tralac Researcher, discusses the SADC Regional Agricultural Policy (RAP) and non-tariff barriers

One of the objectives of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Common Agenda in Article 5 of the SADC Treaty is the promotion of sustainable and equitable economic growth and socio-economic development through the harmonisation of political and socio-economic policies and plans of member countries. Furthermore, Article 21 of the Treaty identifies agriculture as one of the key areas for cooperation among member states to foster regional development and integration. In order to fulfil these obligations the SADC Regional Agricultural Policy (RAP) was drafted and approved by the SADC Ministers of Agriculture and Food Security in July 2014 (available here). Due to the importance of the agricultural sector for poverty alleviation, economic growth and food security in the region the purpose of the RAP is to ‘define common agreed objectives and measures to guide, promote and support actions at regional and national levels in the agricultural sector of the SADC Member States in contribution to regional integration and the attainment of the SADC Common Agenda.’ 

To achieve the goal of sustainable and equitable economic growth and socio-economic development one of the key objectives of the RAP is the improvement of regional and international agricultural trade and market access for agricultural products. This aspect of the policy focuses on the improvement of the efficiency and effectiveness of the input and output markets in the region, of regional and international agricultural trade and of the development of agriculture-related infrastructure. To improve the trade environment the RAP calls for, amongst others, the reduction of non-tariff measures (NTMs) and non-tariff barriers (NTBs) hindering regional agricultural goods trade in accordance with Article 6 of the SADC Protocol on Trade. 

According to the RAP the non-technical NTBs that are most prolific in SADC agricultural trade are import and export bans, the lack of rules of origin harmonization and ineffective customs procedures. Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures are identified as the most problematic technical NTBs which requires harmonization to increase intra- and inter-regional exports. According to the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) online NTB mechanism there are currently 86 active complaints on the system that are in the process of being addressed. Seven of these complaints pertain to overall intra-SADC NTBs, while 58 pertain to trade issues experienced within individual SADC member states. The seven intra-SADC NTBs all have an impact on intra-SADC agricultural trade. Of the seven NTBs three relate to customs and administrative procedures (a lack of a simplified trading regime, different documentation required and varying border operating times); three are complaints of inadequate trade-related infrastructure (lack of uniform loads and Gross Vehicle Mass standards, lack of efficient rail links and the inability of ports to handle shipping containers over 6 meters); and one relates to costly road user charges and fees (variation in toll fees). Of the 58 NTBs in individual SADC member states 36 complaints relate directly or indirectly to agricultural trade. Nine NTB complaints have a direct impact on the trade of agricultural products and mostly pertain to government policies regarding SPS certificates, permit requirements and temporary import bans. Of these nine NTBs three relate to measures in Tanzania (cumbersome procedures for SPS certificates and permits, non-tariff fees levied on agricultural products and charges levied on dairy products), two pertain to Zimbabwe (long process to obtain agricultural permits for imports and the ban of soya bean oil imports) and one each in Botswana (agricultural permits to be purchased and the original to travel with the consignment), South Africa (ban on non-irradiated honey from Zambia), Angola (excessive SPS inspections and sampling procedures) and Swaziland (different authorities issuing different agricultural permits). The other NTB complaints affecting agricultural trade mainly relate to additional fees and taxes, costly road user fees and charges and issues related to transit and include miscellaneous port charges, cargo fees, municipal levies and transport fees and varying toll charges.  

In order to address these NTBs the RAP proposes various regional initiatives to be undertaken, including:

  • The development of approaches to eliminate NTBs

  • Ensuring the transparency and efficiency of the TFTA NTB reporting mechanism

  • Increasing the awareness of the TFTA NTB reporting mechanism among the private sector

  • The harmonization of SPS measures and technical standards

  • The promotion of mutual recognition of members’ SPS certificates

  • Supporting the development of national plans to eliminate NTBs and resource mobilisation to implement the required measures to eliminate NTBs on agricultural trade

These provisions emulate some of the provisions in the Draft TFTA and Annex 3 which pertains to NTBs in the tripartite region. One of the priority areas of the TFTA is to eliminate NTBs by combining the different approaches that have been in place in the individual RECs (SADC, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC)) into one common strategy for eliminating NTBs in all 26 tripartite countries. The October 2014 version of Annex 3 requires the online NTB mechanism to facilitate the elimination of all NTBs experienced in SADC, COMESA and the EAC and to enhance transparency in and monitoring of those NTBs experienced in the region. Furthermore, the Annex requires the participation of both private and public sector, sensitization and capacity building of stakeholders on the NTB tools and the drafting of national NTB elimination plans by all tripartite member countries.

The efficient use of this mechanism can contribute significantly to the elimination of current barriers to agricultural trade in SADC in support of the initiatives proposed in the RAP. However, an important caveat of the online NTB mechanism is in its design as an ex post facto mechanism; it only addresses NTBs as they arise and after the barrier has already been experienced and the trader has already incurred the cost of the barrier. What is absent is a review process to ensure problematic policies or regulations are reviewed prior to them becoming an NTB issue. This caveat has also been identified in the RAP by requiring the harmonization of SPS measures and technical standards and the promotion of mutual recognition among SADC countries. Many persistent NTBs in intra-SADC agricultural trade, including issues related to transit, cumbersome customs documentation requirements, varying vehicle standards and axle load limits and issues related to SPS certificates and permits can be reduced if provisions in the SADC Treaty and protocols are implemented. These include the Protocol on Trade and its annexes on SPS measures and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBTs) where provision is made for the harmonization of national instruments. However, harmonization has been slow and designing a Mutual Recognition Agreement has been challenging; issues which might only be amplified by the implementation of the TFTA (and the negotiations of the Continental Free Trade Area) in future. Nevertheless, due to the importance of the agricultural sector in SADC, if there is complementarity between the online NTB mechanism as an ex post facto instrument to solve agricultural NTBs expeditiously and the implementationof existing protocols, policies and initiatives the elimination of NTBs in the long-run can contribute to creating regional supply chains and increase the competitiveness of regional producers. This in turn will support the RAP in promoting sustainable and equitable economic growth and socio-economic development in SADC.



SADC Regional Agricultural Policy; TFTA online NTB mechanism (www.tradebarriers.org) and the Draft TFTA Agreement and Annex 3 (October 2014)


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