The SADC Trade Facilitation Agenda: Lessons for the African Continental Free Trade Area
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) defines trade facilitation as “the simplification, modernisation and harmonisation of export and import processes.” In spite of the liberalisation of trade in various trade rounds, reduction in the cost of transportation and increased use of information and communication technologies, significant barriers related to the streamlining and coordination of trade procedures have remained especially in least developed and developing countries.
In Africa, the inspiration for the trade facilitation provisions in the various regional economic communities (RECs), including the Southern African Development Community (SADC), can be traced to the Lagos Plan of Action and the Final Act of Lagos (1980), the Abuja Treaty (1992) and the Constitutive Act of the African Union (2000). Furthermore, these are the antecedents of the Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which was adopted in Kigali, Rwanda on 21st March 2018.
The provisions in the AfCFTA Agreement and SADC Protocol on Trade related to trade facilitation instruments are consistent with provisions in other international agreements (such as the WTO TFA) and customs conventions (such as the WCO Revised Kyoto Convention). This means that lessons learned from implementation of these instruments at the regional and international level are relevant for implementation of the AfCFTA. Challenges to implementation of trade facilitation measures in Africa include non-uniform ratification of international conventions and agreements. Secondly, even when ratified, implementation of the conventions and agreements is not carried out systematically and uniformly at the national and regional level. Thirdly, NTBs have been persistent in spite of the provisions in treaties that once they have come into force, contracting parties are to refrain from applying existing NTBs, and not introduce new ones. The EAC-COMESA-SADC Tripartite mechanism for NTB resolution holds promise not only for SADC, but the AfCFTA as well. These measures require high level political will and commitment for implementation, and the participation of the private sector at all levels.
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