Working Papers

Non-tariff barriers affecting trade in the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Agreement

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01 Apr 2011

Author(s): Willemien Viljoen

Successive rounds of multilateral trade negotiations have led to a decrease in the use of tariffs as barriers to trade. However, the reduction in tariffs has been substituted by the utilisation of non-tariff barriers (NTBs). NTBs are defined as any barrier to trade other than import and export duties. This includes export taxes, import bans, government monopolies, cumbersome documentation requirements and a lack of physical infrastructure. The utilisation of NTBs is a growing concern in Africa and a major obstacle to regional integration, since these barriers increase business costs and restrict market access.  

The most prevalent NTBs hindering regional trade in the Tripartite Territory (COMESA, the EAC and SADC) include customs procedures and administrative requirements, technical standards, government participation in trade and the lack of physical infrastructure. This is of particular importance to agricultural trade within the region. Cumbersome documentation requirements, stringent standards and inefficient road and rail networks cause time delays and increase the cost of intra-regional trade. This has a direct and indirect impact on the quality and price of agricultural products available in the regional market.

The member states of COMESA, the EAC and SADC have realised that NTBs are a major impediment to the expansion of intra-regional trade and identified the elimination of NTBs as one of the key objectives of the Draft Tripartite Agreement. In order to reach this objective a Web-based NTB Monitoring Mechanism has been put into place. Although the mechanism has been successful in resolving various NTB complaints among trading partners, there is still a range of NTBs prevalent in the region. In order to enhance regional development and promote intra-regional trade the Tripartite member states need to intensify efforts to address NTBs on a regional basis.


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