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Regional TRS being conducted by SADC to assess bottlenecks along regional corridors

In an article dated 5 July 2022, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Regional Economic Community that groups 16 countries in Southern and Central Africa, announced that it is conducting a regional Time Release Study (TRS) along its corridors to assess bottlenecks in the clearance of goods at crossing border posts in the region in view of increasing their efficiency.

TRSs are tools whose adoption is recommended by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) that are aimed at measuring the average time between the arrival of the goods and their release to the importer. Their function is to allow Customs to identify bottlenecks in the clearing process that are imputable not only to this administration, but also to other regulatory agencies intervening in import, export and transit operations, so that corrective actions can be taken (for an overview of the adoption of TRS in Africa, see our post).

TRS are also one of the measures recommended by the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement, that to this end states (article 7.6): “Members are encouraged to measure and publish their average release time of goods periodically and in a consistent manner, using tools such as, inter alia, the Time Release Study of the World Customs Organization”. The Annex 4 to the Protocol on Trade in Goods of the AfCFTA Agreement also mentions time release studies at Article 12, which exactly mirrors art. 7.6 of the TFA encouraging State Parties "to measure and publish their average release time of goods periodically and in a consistent manner, using tools such as the Time Release Study of the World Customs Organization", adding at par. 2 that "Each State Party may determine the scope and methodology of such average release time measurement in accordance with its needs and capacity".

Typically TRS are carried out within the territory of a single country at specific points of entry of goods, such as ports, airports and land borders. However, cases where they are conducted between two States (bilaterally), between more than two States (regionally), or even with regard to specific inter-State corridors, are not infrequent. For instance, COMESA launched in 2016/17 a regional TRS with the support of the African Development Bank for the elaboration of a regional TRS at selected border posts in 10 COMESA member States, while an example of TRSs conducted at corridor level is the Northern Corridor Time Release Study undertaken by the Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Co-ordination Authority (NCTTCA) Secretariat in 2016.

The forerunner of regional TRS in South Africa is SACU, the Southern Africa Customs Union. This organization already planned in 2015 the adoption of a pilot regional TRS along the Trans Kalahari Corridor to analyse bottlenecks to clearance of goods moved between Botswana and Namibia. Finalised in 2010, SACU launched afterwards the idea of conducting a TRS covering all the border posts crossed by the Trans Kalahari Corridor to evaluate the efficiency of clearing operations along the entire corridor. The initiative has bed subsequently replicated by SADC and extended to all the main corridors in the region. The undertaking of Time Release Study (TRS) to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of clearing goods at border posts of the SADC Member States is also indicated in the SADC Corporate Plan 2022/23 as one of the main areas of focus of SADC for the period 2022/23.


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