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Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Topics publications: Trade Facilitation and Customs

Trade Briefs

Rail transport initiatives in Africa: Implications for improving intermodal transportation linkages on the continent

The growth of demand for freight transport services among African countries is likely to accelerate due to a number of factors which include the sustained effort by individual countries to grow intra-Africa trade, through the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and the direct efforts to improve trade performance with global partners. The AfCFTA is expected to lead to a general increase in intra-African freight demand of around 28%, compared with a scenario without the AfCFTA. The growth of freight transport is likely to add more pressure to the land freight transport system which is already constrained by many bottlenecks which continue to suppress logistics efficiency and trade flows. This adds to the urgency with which Africa must confront the bottlenecks and inefficiencies affecting the land transport system.

Despite many potential benefits of rail transport in Africa, such as its mass transit capability, high productivity potential, energy efficiency, low cost to society, safety, space saving and sustainability; rail transport has not attracted a significant proportion of (both the continental and international) freight task as yet. However, as rail revitalisation and expansion gains momentum across the continent, it will be important to ensure early standardisation of institutional frameworks, regulation, technical designs, maintenance programmes, management and operating models of the rail system across the continent. Furthermore, it will be important to build into this process, interoperability and integration of the many rail links into a single continental rail system, and connectivity to the Trans-African Highway system, which also links up with key seaports across the continent.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

Of border delays and barriers to trade in the cross-border corridors of the Eastern and Southern African region: What are the lessons for Africa?

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) offers significant prospects to improve cross-border trade for the entire continent. However, for this to be achieved, supportive national trade policies and complementary administrative measures at the implementation fronts have to be put in place and effectively managed and implemented. The African Union is dedicating the year 2023 to accelerating implementation of its main flagship programme – AfCFTA, towards achieving Agenda 2030 (the Africa we want) and the Agenda 2063 (delivery on the Sustainable Development Goals).

Recent estimates by the World Bank (2020) indicate  that both the reduction in non-tariff barriers (NTBs) on goods and services and the improvements in trade facilitation measures will successfully account for about two-thirds of the US$450 billion in potential income gains. Nevertheless, this can only be attainable on condition that long delays across the majority of Africa’s borders (including border corridors) are reduced and compliance costs lowered – significantly. This way, it will become easier for businesses in Africa to become better integrated into regional and global supply chains. The issues of NTBs and long delays at the borders in East and Southern Africa (ESA) emerging are the focus of this Trade Brief.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

Customs border management through the Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) concept: What are the issues and the way forward?

The need to facilitate trade while keeping the supply chain secure has become very important in international trade today. As a result, the traditional role of Customs has evolved over the years from being gatekeepers to ensuring the security of the whole supply chain among several other responsibilities. The WCO has responded to the call by introducing the Authorised Economic Operator program which aims at facilitating trade through enhanced cooperation between business and Customs. The program was well received especially in the developed world and some developing countries but the same cannot be said about Africa. This Trade Brief examines the challenges that are causing the low uptake of the program in Africa and possible solutions that Customs Administrations in Africa can adopt to fully benefit from this Trade Facilitation initiative.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

Beitbridge border upgrade: Embracing Customs border modernisation for enhanced trade facilitation and the regional integration agenda in Africa

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The emerging realisation of the importance of the worldwide obligations meant to guide and harmoniously influence international trade is somewhat behind the increasing demand for effective trade facilitation by businesses, private sectors, transporters, and traders. Of late, this demand is equally becoming more evident in Africa through its various existing regional trade arrangements or RTAs fronted by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

This Trade Brief focuses the discussion on the concept of Customs modernisation and the important complementary role that it can play towards enhancing operational trade facilitation, especially in Africa. Building from this foundation, the focus switches to contextualising the concept by looking at the Beitbridge border upgrade. It identifies, highlights and updates the key Customs modernisation features that may potentially spur regional integration and accelerate the operational trade facilitation agenda in Africa provided proper care is taken. This is done at least for two reasons.

Beitbridge is the busiest Southern African border post in Africa that gives direct entry into SADC, COMESA, ESA Region as well as the entire sub-Saharan Africa from South Africa. It is a border post where a massive modernisation project, in the region or continent where such undertakings are still very few.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

Customs Administration and the Role of Disruptive Technologies in facilitating cross-border trade in Africa

What do practitioners and traders need to know and what can be done to make them work for trade facilitation?

Customs administrations advance and implement cohesive sets of policies, procedures and tools that enhance safety, secure global supply chains, and support effective cross-border trade facilitation and revenue collection. To achieve these objectives, Customs administrations largely rely on the broader complementary functions and guiding approaches of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Customs Organisation (WCO). The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement – the first multilateral trade agreement concluded since the establishment of the WTO in 1995 – is aimed at ensuring smooth, predict-able movement of goods across borders. Administratively, the WCO complements the WTO through the development and provision of several international standards, procedures, policies, and tools for use by Customs administrations as they carry out their responsibilities.

This Trade Brief discusses disruptive technologies and the potential use by Customs to advance the trade facilitation agenda within the continent. The aim is to outline what both the practitioners and traders need to know about disruptive technologies and their application in the context of Africa. 


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Working Papers

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.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

Extended border delays a common experience at Kasumbalesa: What are the real issues and can we expect improvements?

In 2017, neighbouring countries the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia signed a bilateral trade agreement, paving the way for the formation of a joint border post committee tasked with the establishment of a One-Stop-Border-Post (OSBP) at Kasumbalesa. An OSBP is a port of entry in which two neighbouring governments voluntarily agree on a decision to co-locate their port of entry operations at a common end-to-end land border crossing. It is at this border in Africa where five main ports dovetail: one from East Africa (Port of Mombasa), and four from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC)  (Walvis Bay, Beira, Dar es Salaam and Durban). Kasumbalesa.

This Trade Brief discusses some of the main obstacles that have become perennially synonymous with the extended border delays at Kasumbalesa – one of the major and busiest OSBPs in Africa –  and the trade facilitation challenges  confronted daily by transporters, commercial goods, traders and people. Despite all of these, which are conspicuous and inherent at Kasumbalesa, users of this OSBP need to remain optimistic about the future.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

Are the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Transport and Trade Facilitation Programme and the Corridor Trips Monitoring System gaining traction?

On 22 October 2008, at the Tripartite Summit, Heads of State and Government of the member states of COMESA, EAC and SADC agreed to establish the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA). The TFTA strives to improve the economic and social welfare of the citizens of the Member States through the advancement of regional economic growth by creating an enabling environment for intra-TFTA trade. The achievement of this objective is premised on the three main pillars of the TFTA: market integration, infrastructure development, and industrial development. The pillar on infrastructure development seeks to promote interconnected, integrated, and seamless infrastructure networks that facilitate enhanced movement of goods, services, knowledge and people.

This Trade Brief looks at the SADC-COMESA-EAC regional and trade facilitation progress and developments under the TFTA’s Tripartite Transport and Transit/Trade Facilitation Programme (TTTFP). This is extended to equally cover the TTTFP’s complementary trade facilitation flagship programme in the making – the Corridor Trips Monitoring System (CTMS).


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

The Harmonized System: What do users and traders need to know?

The Harmonized System Nomenclature (HS Nomenclature) is an international standardized numerical Customs clearance facility. It is used in the systematic classification of goods and services as they move along the international supply chain. The HS Nomenclature caters for this by providing a logical structure in which more than 5000 commodity groups are categorized into more than 1200 headings covered under a total of 96 Chapters. In turn, these Chapters are divided into 21 Sections. The System simplifies classification and clearance by assigning standardized number codes to all the tradable products. Assignment of HS Codes to these tradable goods facilitates their identification for Customs clearance purposes when internationally traded.

This Trade Brief discusses the functions and attributes of the HS Nomenclature, highlighting the worldwide importance to traders through the roles of Customs administrations, as well as providing an update on the uptake and implementation of the Harmonized System in Africa.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

Africa and the adoption of HS2022: Implementation update, impact and consequences in the context of AfCFTA

The new edition of the Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding System 2022 (HS2022) entered into force on the 1st of January 2022. This development means that Customs tariffs, associated Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) management systems – such as the Automated Systems for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) – as well as accompanying Harmonised System (HS) tools and instruments must have been successfully migrated from the previous edition (HS2017) to the new version (HS2022).

A few weeks prior to entry into force of HS2022, African countries’ experiences in this regard still indicated widely ranging inconsistencies and discrepancies in the application of the HS in general. Whilst all the Contracting Parties were expected to have fully migrated to the HS2017 by then, apparently some had not yet done so. The majority of those were still either using HS2012 or even HS2007, whilst some had huge delays in rolling out HS2017. Only 30 African countries had successfully migrated to HS2017 and were already applying it. At the launch of the operational phase of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) during the 12th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union on the AfCFTA in Niamey, Niger held on the 7th of July 2019, HS2017 was already in its third year. At that time, half of the African Union Member States were still to ratify the AfCFTA.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

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