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The COMESA Secretariat working closely with Member States has managed to eliminate 168 Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) out of 172 which were reported since 2008.

The most recent NTB to be resolved was between Swaziland and Zimbabwe. The latter had expressed doubts on the originating status of fridges and deep freezers manufactured in Swaziland from being sold in Zimbabwe on a preferential basis.

A NTB is a form of restrictive trade measure where barriers to trade are set up and take a form other than a tariff. Non Tariff Barriers include quotas, levies, embargoes, sanctions and other restrictions, and are frequently used by large and developed economies.

The Secretariat facilitated the two Member States to hold several consultative meetings and on site visits where it was proven that indeed the fridges and freezers made in Swaziland met the requirements of the COMESA Rules of Origin and they are now being exported to Zimbabwe on preferential basis.

Director of Trade and Customs at COMESA Secretariat Dr Francis Mangeni says that stakeholders are working together to ensure that the four remaining NTBs are resolved soon.

“We have been very proactive in working to resolve the NTBs. As a Secretariat we write technical opinions analyzing the prevailing situation and we work with all parties involved in the NTB advising them how best to resolve an issue. We even take officials for joint-on-the-spot verification visits to verify claims so that we all make an informed decision which will assist in resolving the matter and thus deepen regional integration,” Dr Mangeni added.

The four remaining NTBs affect Zambia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius and Zimbabwe.  The NTBs between Kenya and Zambia are on raw milk and pure palm-based cooking oil products. Madagascar and Mauritius NTB is on soap products. With regard to Zimbabwe, the NTB is on surcharges and import permits on a number of products which were previously imported on a duty free and quota free basis under the COMESA Free Trade.

The Director said that although trade in soap from Mauritius to Madagascar was going on, a clear assurance to the private sector was required by the two concerned governments.

“Zambia and Zimbabwe have promised to consult bilaterally on the issue between them, as they considered it an easy one to iron out quickly. They will provide the status on their bilateral consultations,” the Director said.

Over the years, important lessons have been learnt in dealing with NTBs. Specifically, the NTBs have contributed in reducing or in some cases totally eliminating trade in the affected products and sectors.

Hence it is important for governments to be aware of their rights and need for flexibility under the COMESA Treaty, which can be used for legitimate reasons such as protecting an important domestic industry using safeguards measures approved by the ministerial meeting, instead of resorting to non-tariff barriers.

Dr Mangeni observed that it is equally important for private sector operators and government officials to be forthcoming and fully cooperate in a spirit of promoting regional integration in order to speedily clarify issues.

“Because of some longstanding NTBs, COMESA has now adopted regulations which provide a streamlined process of resolving issues; covering four main phases – consultations, mediation, arbitration and enforcement through sanctions provided for under Article 171 of the Treaty where the final resort becomes necessary,” he said.