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From the WCO a comparative study on rules of origin figures out which steps will be needed for an African customs union

Launched under the EU-WCO Rules of Origin Africa Programme, the new study published by the World Customs Organization describes the differences among the rules of origin applied in the context of the main Free Trade Areas (FTAs) in the ESA (Eastern and Southern Africa) region, namely: the Tripartite, COMESA, EAC and SADC (EAC is a customs union). In addition, a series of separate factsheets on such FTAs, the AfCFTA and the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) concluded between the European Union and the African States in the ESA region, are available on the WCO website.

In December 2021, the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the European Union (EU) successfully signed a partnership agreement for a comprehensive programme on the implementation and application of rules of origin (RoO) for enhanced Intra-African trade. This programme, launched on 19-20 July 2022 in Accra, Ghana and planned to last for 48 months, in addition to the support to both Customs and the private sector in Africa to implement the rules of origin under Annex 2 of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement, also aims at facilitating trade between Africa and Europe, and between Africa and the rest of the world. In this regard, two guides have been published under the Programme, respectively in December 2022 and November 2023: the first one specifically addressed to African traders, the second one is a more detailed document addressed both to economic operators and Customs Administrations (for more details read our post here).

The WCO Comparative Study on the Applicable Rules of Origin in the ESA Region and the other factsheets attached to the main study explore the main similarities and differences in the rules of origin of each FTA/Customs Union in the region (that vary from one to another), as well as with the AfCFTA. The objective of such comparison is to determine which steps will be needed for aligning such rules with each other so to amalgamate them with the AfCFTA ones, in view of the evolution of the continental FTA towards an African customs union, as foreseen by the Treaty of Abuja. This objective, according to the WCO, will require the starting of a convergence process between the origin regimes between all such FTAs, until a full unification will be achieved. Indeed, the study notes that differences between the origin regimes within the ESA region are substantial. Unfortunately, the study does consider the possibility for the AfCFTA RoO to completely supersede all these sub-regional origin regimes overriding them. In addition, another recommendation that emerges from the WCO is that the EPAs of the EU have the potential to serve as catalysts for African economic integration, but only if a higher degree of harmonisation will be achieved between the RoO contained in each agreement. Notably, a harmonization of the product-specific rules (list rules) and the cumulation rules in such agreementscould stimulate African value chains, in view of the creation – in a desirable future - of a unified origin regime for Africa-EU trade.

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