Africa seeks ways to make international trade cheaper, faster and easier at landmark forum

28 November 2018

African countries seeking to reduce the cost, time and complexity of interregional and international trade in goods will gather for the First African Forum for National Trade Facilitation Committees in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 27 to 29 November 2018.

The World Customs Organization (WCO) joined UNCTAD and its six other partner organizations for this landmark event, at a time when Africa is scaling up its trade easing efforts after the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) entered into force in February 2017, and as it prepares to implement the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) that was signed in March 2018.

“The World Trade Organization calculates that current trade costs for developing countries are equivalent to applying a staggering 219% tariff on international trade, and this hurts Africa,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said. “UNCTAD has supported Africa’s work on trade facilitation for decades, including with our ASYCUDA automated Customs systems, and capacity building programmes. The culmination of this work is to support the institutions that can make trade work for all, and National Trade Facilitation Committees must become the agents of change to boost international trade for developing countries.”

A central cog of the TFA is the obligation of each country to set up a National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) with public and private sector stakeholders “to facilitate both domestic coordination and implementation of the provisions of this agreement”. With well-functioning NTFCs, countries will be able to make trade easier, faster and cheaper. For developing countries, and especially least developed countries – the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, full implementation of the TFA could lead to a reduction in trade costs of up to 15%.

“Among the key actors within NTFCs, Customs are encouraged to show their commitment and play their full role as agents of change for the modernization of Customs procedures using WCO tools and instruments, such as the Revised Kyoto Convention, which is the basis and implementation tool for the TFA,” said WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya.  

Correctly implemented trade facilitation measures not only boost trade, but also improve revenue collection, safety, and security compliance controls – for example, improving food safety. In addition, they can help to streamline the work of other government agencies, in particular those that are also involved in cross-border issues.

Such reforms help small cross-border traders, often women, enter the formal sector, make economic activities more transparent and accountable, promote good governance, generate better quality employment, strengthen information technology capabilities, and generally modernize societies by bringing about benefits related to administrative efficiency. These reforms are a prerequisite for developing countries to join global value chains and start trading out of poverty.

Trade facilitation reforms are also positive steps towards human, enterprise and institutional development, and link to achieving the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, making their enactment a win-win for all.

But for these benefits to be realized, it is essential that the TFA is implemented as foreseen. According to the WTO, the rate of implemented commitments under the agreement as of October 2018 stood at 60% – but broken down by level of development a new picture emerges, with developed countries having achieved 100% of commitments, developing countries 60% of commitments, and least developed countries just 22% of commitments.

Anticipating this, the TFA contains important and novel provisions on so-called special and differential treatment that allow developing countries to choose their own implementation schedules – and get implementation assistance if needed.

“Taking advantage of these specific TFA provisions, countries are invited to identify their needs as the WCO stands ready to support governments in their endeavour to address them through capacity building and technical assistance under its Mercator Programme,” the WCO Secretary General added. 

Topics covered during the three-day event include the role of African regional organizations, the role of NTFCs in the implementation of trade facilitation provisions in the AfCFTA, paperless initiatives at entry points, the involvement of the private sector in NTFCs, how to coordinate the work being done by different border agencies, and the role of transit corridors.

There will also be sessions on the gender dimension in cross-border trade, and the application of digital technologies in future modes of trading, at a time when e-commerce becomes ever more important in international trade.

The forum is co-organized by:

  • United Nations Economic Commission for Africa
  • United Nations Economic Commission for Europe / Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business
  • International Trade Centre
  • World Bank Group
  • World Trade Organization
  • World Customs Organization
  • Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation

The event was made possible with the support of:

  • The Commonwealth
  • European Union
  • Danida – Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark
  • Government of Finland
  • Islamic Development Bank

The First African Forum for National Trade Facilitation Committees will take place in the UNECA Conference Centre, and follows a similar global event organized by UNCTAD in Geneva, Switzerland, in January 2017.