Lusaka, May, 15, 2020:Ministers responsible for commerce, trade and industry in the COMESA region have agreed on a set of guidelines, which are expected to play a key role in facilitating coordination and uniform application of measures across the borders while ensuring public safety and safe trade.
The decision was made during the 8th Extraordinary Virtual Council of Ministers meeting held on Thursday 14 May 2020. The Ministers also agreed that the guidelines will be applicable during the COVID-19 pandemic period and will be reviewed as and when necessary.
Developed by COMESA Secretariat, the guidelines provide common measures and practices to be applied across the region covering a broad sector range of sectors. These include facilitation of cross-border movement of relief and essential supplies, transportation of goods and cross-border freight transport operation, air transport and movement of goods on transit/inland deliveries.
Other areas covered are regulation and control of trucks/vehicles, aircraft and vessels carrying essential goods and services, customs/revenue authorities support to the economy and sustaining of supply chain continuity among others.
Secretary General Chileshe Kapwepwe told the Ministers that the meeting was necessitated by the prevailing Coronavirus pandemic, which has continued to spread and disrupt trade in the region.
“We need these set of guidelines to ensure that trade and movement of goods continues because even after the region manages to contain this pandemic,” Ms Kapwepwe added.
Under the guidelines, Member States will electronically publish any newly introduced trade and customs- related measures in response to the pandemic and share it periodically with the COMESA Secretariat. Indicative list of essential goods based on the latest Editions of the World Customs Organization (WCO) Harmonized System (HS) classifications will also be published to facilitate clearance of customs and border requirements.
The Ministers stressed the urgent need for the Secretariat to develop an online platform for exchanging information on availability of essential products within COMESA as part of the response measures to the pandemic. This is consistent with the COMESA Digital Trade Facilitation programme, which the organization is encouraging member States to embrace.
In addition, the ministers approved a reduction of 10% of the Secretariat budget given the scaling down of activities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and confer the benefit to the Member States in their annual contributions. COMESA organs and institutions were asked to re-prioritize and refocus the COMESA work programme based on the impact of the pandemic on implementation of its programmes.
The meeting was chaired by the Minister of Industry and Commerce of Madagascar Madame Lantosoa Rakotomalala, who is the current Chair of COMESA Council of Ministers.