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Continental Conference on the Harmonized System for Africa highlights the importance of partnerships, inclusive processes and digital transformation

30 noviembre 2021

On 23 and 24 November 2021, the World Customs Organization (WCO) hosted the first virtual Continental Conference on the Harmonized System (HS) for Africa, in collaboration with the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The Conference was funded by the European Union, within the framework of the EU-WCO Programme for Harmonized System in Africa (HS-Africa Programme). More than one thousand participants from Africa and elsewhere in the world registered to attend the Conference.

In opening the Conference, Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, WCO Secretary General, highlighted the role of the HS as a global standard to sustain the trade system by providing the harmonized means to identify goods that move across borders. He stressed that the entry into force of the 2022 version of the HS would imply a need to amend many major international instruments, such as schedules of tariff concessions forming the core of trade agreements of WTO and regional integration. He pledged continued support that the WCO would provide to African countries within various initiatives, such as the HS-Africa Programme, expressing his appreciation to the European Union for the generous financial support.

Speaking on behalf of the European Commission, Ms. Sandra Kramer, Director Africa, Directorate-General for International Partnerships, expressed her appreciation to the organizers of the Conference for creating a forum to discuss various aspects of the implementation of the HS in Africa. She pointed out that the HS had evolved into a true language of international trade, bringing together countries, facilitating communication and contributing to economic development, integration and innovation. She reiterated that the EU remained firmly committed to furthering economic integration in Africa and trade facilitation efforts of the WCO, which materialized in the form of concrete initiatives, such as the HS-Africa Progamme, which was delivering impressive results.

During the four panel discussions held during the Conference, senior representatives of Customs administrations, international organizations and private companies gathered to exchange views on how to unleash the full potential of the HS as a key enabler of successful trade facilitation. Speakers shared their insights into how one could ensure viable partnerships between different groups of stakeholders of the HS implementation process, and what a winning strategy to optimize processes for effective and timely implementation of the HS should include. A special highlight of the programme was the discussion on administering schedules of tariff concessions under the AfCFTA Agreement, indispensable to operationalize the Free Trade Area in Africa.

In closing the Conference, Mr. Ricardo Treviño, WCO Deputy Secretary General, thanked all the speakers and participants of the Conference for having contributed to its successful conclusion. He expressed his satisfaction that the implementation of the HS was subject of a consultative mechanism with ever-widening audience of stakeholders rather than an exclusive affair of Customs administrations alone. He encouraged all stakeholders to be part of that process, and to benefit from the assistance that the WCO was providing to Customs administrations, Regional Economic Communities and other stakeholders in Africa under the HS-Africa Programme and other capacity building initiatives.

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