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Lusaka, Monday 16 May 2016: Trade restrictions that relate to health and quality standards of foodstuff commodities constitute nearly 80% of the reported Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) among regional States and this has contributed to suppressed intra-COMESA trade.

Such NTBs include outright import bans and others whose application results in increased trading costs or frustrations to investors.

Speaking during the official opening of the 2nd Steering Committee Meeting of the Breaking Barriers Facilitating Trade Project, Assistant Secretary-General in Charge of Administration and finance in COMESA, Ambassador Nagla El Hussainy said that while a number of the NTBs are reported through the tripartite online monitoring system, many are hidden and hardly reported. She attributed the low intra-COMESA’s trade, which is less than 12%, to the NTBs.

The implementation of the project is aimed at helping governments and other stakeholders to monitor both the direct and hidden NTBs that relate to Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures and technical standards.

“This project is very important as it is at the core of trade facilitation work under regional integration,” Amb. El Hussainy said adding that the initiative will complement the broader trade facilitation initiatives under the COMESA integration agenda such as the One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs).

She called on the committee to fast track the implementation of the projects at the borders as both reported and unreported NTBs, slow down investments and trade across borders. Traders also find it difficult to establish themselves where regulations are not harmonized and/or transparent.

Seven COMESA Member States: Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe are involved in the project.

Amb El Hussainy urged the countries involved in this initiative to ensure full implementation in order to realize lower costs of doing business, predictable regulatory environment that builds competitiveness and increases market access opportunities.

“Your efforts do not end with the development of this tool, but by working together to initiate reforms that will improve the regulatory environment to make it simpler and less costly to the business community,” she said.

She implored governments to work closely with stakeholders in the private sector in ensuring that the overall trading costs associated with implementation of SPS measures and technical standards are reasonable and justified.

“We pledge to work with the public and private entities in COMESA to ensure that the outcomes from this initiative are fully embraced to increase transparency, improve the regulations and reduce overall trading costs, especially for small scale traders, who are often forced into unsafe informal trading routes, when faced with cumbersome, costly border checks”, she said.