Signing ceremony for the HS Programme in Africa between the EU and the WCO

05 October 2018

On 4 October 2018, the WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya, signed a 5 million euro contract  for “Harmonizing the classification of goods based on WCO standards to enhance Africa trade” Programme with the representative of the European Commission's Directorate-General for International cooperation and Development (EU DEVCO), Mr. Hans Stausboll, Director for EU-Africa Relations, East and Southern Africa.  The representative of the Directorate-General for Tax and Customs Union (EU TAXUD), Ms. Sabine Henzler, Director for International and General Affairs, was in attendance at the ceremony. 

The 41-month programme is being funded by the European Union (EU) and carried out by the WCO.  It contributes to the implementation of the World Trade Organization Trade Facilitation Agreement (WTO-TFA) and to the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), formally launched by the Assembly of the African Union on 21 March 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda.  Furthermore, the Programme contributes to the EU’s External Investment Plan and to the Joint Africa-EU Strategy, adopted at the Lisbon Summit in 2007 and refined at subsequent summits in 2010, 2014 and 2017.

The anticipated outcome of the Programme for 2022 is that the beneficiary African countries will implement and apply the 2022 version of the HS in line with the Harmonized System (HS) Convention, the WTO-TFA and the WCO’s Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC), together with continental and regional commitments. The longer-term objective is to provide African countries with the required organizational capacities and resources to migrate and apply future HS versions in a timely manner that is coordinated throughout the entire continent and region. 

To date, 49 of the 54 African countries have ratified the HS Convention but only 29 apply the HS 2017.  Only six countries apply the WCO Council Recommendation on the improvement of tariff classification work and related infrastructure, while only eight countries apply the Recommendation on Advance Rulings. The programme offers benefits to Africa’s Regional Economic Communities (RECs), Customs administrations and relevant stakeholders, including the Africa Union Commission, selected national government administrations and the private sector.

At the ceremony, Secretary General Mikuriya expressed his sincere gratitude to the EU for its efforts in obtaining funding by completing the process, together with the WCO Secretariat, of certifying the WCO’s accounts as eligible for EU funding.  He also welcomed the fact that the EU was underlining the importance of the HS as a basic tool for Customs in the facilitation and control areas, while addressing the expectations of business for uniform application of the HS to ensure expeditious movements of goods while ensuring compliance, as evidenced by the WTO TFA. 

Referring to the last African Union Sub-Committee of Directors General of Customs (AUSCDGD) held in Moroni, Comoros, in September 2018, Dr. Mikuriya articulated his hope that this Programme would support not only individual African countries but also regional integration towards building an African market connecting trade inside and outside Africa. 

Mr. Stausboll indicated that this Programme was in line with the EU policy of strengthening EU-Africa partnership emphasized by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, in his recent state-of-the-union speech.  Director Stausboll conveyed his wish for smooth implementation of the Programme involving relevant stakeholders. 

Ms. Henzler was delighted that the EU could make a financial contribution of this kind for the first time, especially on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Customs Union.  She commented that this showed the EU’s willingness to work with African countries in partnership with the WCO and she expected further such contributions in the future.