It’s close to two months since COMESA developed and issued guidelines for movement of goods and services across the region during the COVID-19 Pandemic. During this period, there has been a notable adherence to the guidelines and the advisories provided by World Customs Organisation (WCO) and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) at the points of entry and exit by border authorities in most Member States
According to a report by the Team Leader of the COMESA Trade Facilitation Programme funded under the 11th European Development Fund, Mr. Charles Chaitevzi, this is a departure from the past, where agencies were working in silos without a designated lead agency to ensure a “whole of government” response.
“Government agencies are now working in a more coherent manner and have also embraced the use of ICT tools,” he notes. “There has always been conflict between facilitating trade and the overriding need for border agencies to maximize revenue collections and compliance with enforcement measures and hence, the benefits of using ICT tools were not fully realized.”
The COMESA guidelines provide procedures and standards to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus disease and at same time minimizing disruptions in the supply chain and to facilitate movement of goods and services across the region during the pandemic.
Mr. Chaitevzi notes, it has increasingly become apparent that embracing technology in various trade facilitation instruments can unlock the COVID-19 induced restrictions and help accelerate the much need cross-border trade and investment even during such difficulties.
According to his report, emerging changes in perceptions of border agencies regarding trade facilitation and enhanced use of ICT have created opportunities for redesigning border processes and operations. These will build and sustain the emergency measures that were adopted to maintain supply chains under the COVID- 19 pandemic environment.
The report recommends for upgrading of the ICT systems with connectivity among the government agencies coupled with the application of the principles of risk management and reducing physical inspections.
“There are opportunities to utilize track and trace systems offered by Electronic Cargo Tracking Systems and Global Positioning Systems in freight vehicles units and to institute performance management systems that will ensure that operations at border crossings reduce the costs of transporting goods and contribute to the competitiveness of the products from COMESA Member States,” the report says.
Currently, several key interventions are already being implemented through the COMESA Trade Facilitation Programme at targeted border posts in the region. Under the programme, technical and financial support has been provided to automate government agencies systems to support full implementation of Coordinated Border Management principles.
According to the report, the lessons that COVID-19 has and specifically the need to ensure more sustainable systems are put in place to facilitate efficient and effective border operations.
“Ultimately, an expedited implementation of interventions under the COMESA Trade Facilitation Programme, in partnership between COMESA Secretariat and Member States, will create an enhanced trading environment underpinned by upgraded border crossings and efficient cross-border goods clearance processes.”