The SADC Business Council (SBC), a private sector umbrella body comprising major national private sector bodies from each of the 16 SADC Member States, has proposed the urgent establishment of a corridor management institution, which will deal with the obstacles at the border of posts that stifle trade flows on the North-South Corridor (NSC) of the Region.
The NSC, which connects the South African port of Durban to Lusaka, Zambia, Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Lilongwe and Blantyre in Malawi, via Johannesburg (South Africa), Botswana and Zimbabwe, is a vital corridor for trade and the maintenance of regional integration of SADC.
Mr. Peter Varndell, CEO of NEPAD Business Foundation and speaking on behalf of the SBC, said common factors contributing to the high costs of doing business on the NSC include poor border management and service delivery at border posts; vehicle congestion; poor process flow; inadequate and obsolete infrastructure; poor communication between the private and public sectors; and disregard for regional imperatives and the regional impact of local and national decisions.
Mr. Varndell was speaking at a virtual “Coordinated Border Management Policy Dialogue for Enhanced Trade Facilitation” held under the SADC Dialogue Facility (SDF). The SDF is a European Union (EU) funded program that seeks to contribute to the SADC regional integration agenda by supporting effective policy dialogues around key thematic areas of importance to this agenda. These political dialogues have been recognized as an essential element in the formulation of policies and the effective implementation of regional integration.
Statistics show that between October 25, 2020 and March 16, 2021, the total delays at the five borders along the NSC amounted to 16,393,543 hours and cost US $ 330 million. The proposed CMI will facilitate improved infrastructure, align processes at border posts, harmonize regulations, improve inefficiencies to accelerate trade, and deepen regional integration along the NSC.
Mr Varndell said priorities for an interim CMI would include developing an NSC stakeholder database and working with ‘hot spot’ stakeholders to facilitate resolution of issues at border posts.
It is also necessary to involve all governments along the NSC for a review of the draft 2009 MoU on the Corridor, as after 12 years this MoU has not yet been approved.
A review of the MoU will include private sector participation at all levels; the integration of the many initiatives on the NSC; tackle immediate crisis areas; accelerate software and hardware infrastructure upgrades across the region; to enhance the importance of the development of the NSC; attract industrial development to the corridor through incentives; create strong political support for an optimal business environment in the region; and synergize the work of all agencies working on the NSC.
The public-private sector partnership on the NSC is essential and the benefits include a wider pool of funding options to operationalize and support the CMI; access to private sector expertise for competitive business operations; and direct insight into user issues and operational challenges.
Speaking at the same dialogue, Mr. Alcides Monteiro, Senior Customs Program Officer and Head of the Customs Unit of the SADC Secretariat, explained that congestion at border posts in the region is mainly caused by lack of coordination between border officials and poor infrastructure.
SADC Trade Ministers tasked the SADC Secretariat to facilitate the development of border corridor management (CBM), identifying that this can remove barriers to the movement of goods and services. Some Member States have started by establishing joint border committees to implement CBM at certain borders.
He noted that the landscape at border posts was complex, with health, police, drug control, environmental officers, international police (Interpol), immigration and customs officers all represented. . Each of these border agencies had their own mandate, from which they derived their powers and this was not coordinated most of the time, resulting in delays.
Mr. Monteiro stressed that coordinated border management was vital for regional integration, that the implementation of CBM was one of the areas contained in the SADC Trade Facilitation Program and that Member States that already implementing it should move from an ad hoc process to a formal CBM process.
In a presentation on Zambia’s experiences in managing border posts, Mr. Sydney Chibabbuka, Commissioner of Customs Services, Zambia Revenue Authority, said the World Customs Organization, of which Zambia is a member, recommended CBM.
Zambia enacted a Border Management and Facilitation Law in 2018, which resolved the issue of designating the senior officer at border posts.
With nearly 20 agencies operating at border posts in Zambia, Mr. Chibabbuka described the need for a deliberate government policy stipulating who should be at the border and how other officers can perform their duties without being physically present.
He then identified some key elements for the smooth movement of goods and services, including strong coordination between all border officers; rationalize the number of agencies at border posts; information and communication technology services for all agencies; and harmonization of operations between agencies, for example by working the same hours.
Mr Jason Blackman, Senior Director – Customs and Regulatory Affairs at DHL Express Sub-Saharan Africa, said Covid-19 once again underscored the fundamental importance of global and regional trade.
Creating a transparent and coherent regulatory framework supported by streamlined customs processes that balance the need to comply with trade facilitation will not only attract foreign direct investment and boost economic growth in Africa, but will improve the ease of making trade. business and will reduce the cost of that business.
Regretting that SADC’s mandate to simplify the movement of people and goods across borders is having limited impact, Mr. Blackman said it lacks tangible traction on the ground, with no escalation protocol for a resolution. rapid problems, despite regular meetings of key SADC institutions.
He described a dearth of specific e-commerce strategies or frameworks, borders riddled with congestion and restrictions, and a lack of harmonization between border posts and government agencies.
He recommended that the SADC region expand adoption of risk management and pre-arrival / departure processing systems to reduce the number of inspections at border posts and expedite the release of low-risk shipments upon arrival; develop a coherent and practical electronic commerce framework, including cross-border digital commerce; and ensure that current and future policy and regulatory decisions are not taken in isolation and include the private sector.
He summarized that the implementation of the SADC regional guidelines on harmonization and facilitation of goods clearly needs to be improved. – Sadc