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New report shows status of implementation of customs modernization reforms in East and Southern Africa

The World Customs Organization (WCO) East and Southern Africa (ESA) Regional Office for Capacity Building (ROCB) has consolidated into a report the findings from a recent survey conducted in its 24 members to assess the status of implementation of reforms and modernizations projects in the various customs administrations. The WCO-ROCBs are autonomous entities (they are not bodies of the WCO) that are established in various regions of the world to assist member customs administrations with capacity building programs at regional level by helping them, among others, to identify more accurate capacity building needs and possible solutions and to coordinate the use and implementation of WCO tools and practices in the different Regions. The WCO-ESA-ROCB report shows the progress made by customs administrations in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA region) with regard to the automation of processes, use of information communication and technology, HS implementation, risk management, cross-border e-commerce, single window implementation (with the observed changes following the introduction of such systems), use of coordinated border management practices, one-stop border posts, advance rulings, Electronic Cargo Tracking Systems (ECTSs) and other fields of activity.

The report also shows the challenges encountered in the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). In this regard, it has to be noted that four ESA Countries have been included in 2022 in the AfCFTA’s Guided Trade initiative (GTI). They are: Kenya, Mauritius, Rwanda and Tanzania. Interestingly, the results of the surveyshow that ESA members have expressed the need to receive additional capacity building as a condition for the effective implementation of the agreement (32% of the sample). Another 23% raised the need to introduce a Simplified Trade Regime (STR) within the AfCFTA, at continental level. The STR is a simplified procedure recommended at the Transitional Standard 4.13 of the WCO Revised Kyoto Convention on the Simplification and Harmonisation of Customs Procedures that allows small scale traders to benefit from an exoneration from payment of customs duties for transactions under a threshold value which is currently of 2,000 USD per consignment in COMESA and EAC, two African Regional Economic Communities that are currently implementing such a simplified scheme.

Findings from the survey also show that ESA countries are lagging behind in the submission in their tariff schedule concessions to the AfCFTA Secretariat, despite both the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Customs Unions have submitted their provisional tariff concessions to the AfCFTA Secretariat as a block.

The WCO-ESA-ROCB report finally shows the technical Support and Capacity Building assistance received by ESA countries from various donors and development partners in implementing various types of trade facilitation measures. For each of such measures, the main challenges incurred by Customs in the region are also described. For instance, the main challenge in implementing a Single Window System is indicated in the lack of funding, followed by the difficulty to achieve the integration between the IT systems of the different agencies to be interconnected to such a system. Another example is the implementation of an Electronic Cargo Tracking System to track movement of goods in transit through the territory of one or more countries. Here, the main challenges are indicated in the high costs of maintenance (maintaining electronic seals and the relevant monitoring systems is costly), the difficulty to use ECTS on some type of cargo, such as high-risk cargo, the lack of funding and technical support to implement the ECTS and the need for stakeholder engagement (e.g., private sector) in order to obtain buy-in on the importance of implementing such a system.

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