The role of customs management in the facilitation of trade in the region
The role of customs in the 20th and 21st centuries has evolved in many respects. With the proliferation of regional trading arrangements (RTAs) whose main objective is to increase trade between the parties through elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade, the role of customs in trade facilitation has gained increasing prominence in most regional trade agendas. This is largely because it is a customs responsibility to implement the tariff liberalisation commitments under the RTAs.
Equally important is the undeniable fact that burdensome customs procedures have been cited as one of the huge non-tariff barriers (NTBs) to trade. In addition, customs cooperation is an important aspect in the successful implementation of RTAs. It is not surprising therefore that most preferential trade agreements now include provisions on customs in the areas of simplification and harmonisation of trade procedures, documentation and customs cooperation. In addition, most of the RTAs now contain specific provisions on trade facilitation; however, in most such RTAs the details on the specific measures for achievement of the facilitation are usually either sketchy or non-existent.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) launched its free trade area (FTA) in 2008, in accordance with the provisions of the SADC Trade Protocol (STP) as a culmination of a process of progressive tariff phase-downs on originating goods that had begun in 2000. At the same time all forms of existing NTBs were to be eliminated with no new ones introduced. It is clear that while there has been significant success on removal of tariffs and on non-tariff barriers to trade, little progress has been made. The continued incidence of NTBs is a direct affront to efforts in the region to facilitate intraregional trade in accordance with the STP in fulfilment of the objectives of the SADC FTA, itself one of the key milestones of the SADC regional integration agenda.
Part Three of the STP provides for Customs Procedures that underpin the role of customs in the attainment of the objectives of the protocol. These procedures relate to rules of origin (Article 12), customs cooperation (Article 13), trade facilitation (Article 14) and transit trade (Article 15). In light of these articles, this paper seeks to explore:
the general role of customs in regional trade
key aspects of customs management in regional trade
the role of customs in the implementation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Trade Facilitation
the role of customs in the 21st century and regional integration
some of the challenges faced by customs administrations in the facilitation of regional trade.
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