Trade facilitation referrs to the simplification, harmonisation, standardisation and modernisation of trade procedures. It encompasses policies designed to reduce trade transaction costs, at-the-border and behind-the-border policy reforms, customs and border procedures, and, more recently, border management improvement, institutional development, transit and regional facilitation, logistics services markets and gateway infrastructure, among other important elements.
In addition to its prominence on the multilateral trade front, trade facilitation has gained currency in all modern-day regional trading arrangements motivated by the pressing need to eliminate non-tariff barriers and unnecessary other non-tariff measures that impede trade growth.
Trade facilitation negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) began in 2004, the obvious aim being to conclude a multilateral agreement that would help ensure the smooth and unimpeded flow of goods trade among WTO members. The negotiations were protracted, culminating in the recent landndmark conclusion of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) at the Bali Ministerial Conference held in December 2013.
This was, no doubt, a huge milestone for the WTO. The Agreement is set to be put into proper legal text, and become the Trade Facilitation Agreement after its adoption at the forthcoming July 2014 General Council meeting. As claimed by the WTO, the Agreement will generate between $400 billion and $1 trillion in global trade.
For the southern African region, as is certainly the case with other developing and least developed regions, the question that now begs exploration is: What are the implications for the region of the newly adopted Agreement? This paper seeks to explore the implications to southern Africa of the conclusion of the Trade Facilitation Agreement, this also on the backdrop of the region’s current trade facilitation agenda. A few case studies will be used to highlight the nature and magnitude of some of the implications.
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