Officials from the Governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia are meeting in Lusaka to discuss the COMESA Simplified Trade Regime (STR) and agree on a Common List of products eligible to trade using the instrument.

The three day meeting hosted at the COMESA Secretariat is expected to come up with a unified, negotiated list of products that can be traded by the two neighbouring countries. This will boost trading by bringing cross-border trade into formal mainstream trade. Products usually traded are maize, pulses, groundnuts, fish, electronic products, plastics, cosmetics, other hardware parts, clothing and textile materials and shoes among others.

Among the issues to be addressed in both the short and long term include the products in the STR Common List and the value threshold for high value products between the two countries. Others are excessive taxes and fees and the complexities of other regulatory procedures which are still considered important such as sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures.

Acting COMESA Secretary General Ambassador Nagla El Hussainy said informal cross border trade remains a very important sector in the region as it generates employment and income for youths, women and male traders.

“Small traders, who are largely informal, have perfected the trade and are able to supply to the remotest and most insecure places for marginal profits,” she said. “These traders face a number of challenges including poor access to finance, high transport costs, high taxes and fees, lack of information on trade, poor storage, poor transport infrastructure, poor access to finance, complex procedures and general lack of security for property and life.”

The STR is a trade facilitation initiative implemented by COMESA and it is viewed positively by a majority of traders. The recently held COMESA Council of Ministers’ meeting agreed to raise the value threshold of the STR from US$500 to USD2, 000 and some Member States are already implementing this. This bilateral meeting between the DRC and Zambia is the first in a long time. If successful, the STR will be launched at the DRC/Zambia borders of Kasumbalesa, Mokambo and Sakanya.

Representative of the Zambia Ministry of Trade Mr Sanday Chikoti said trade between the two countries had always been vibrant but there was urgent need to formalize it. He predicted an upward surge in trade levels once the Common List was agreed upon by both parties.