As the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic continues to unfold in the region, countries implementing the COMESA Simplified Trade Regime (STR) are back on the drawing board to figure out how this successful model will be sustained.
The COMESA-STR was introduced to simplify the procedure for clearing goods through Customs and to enable the small-scale cross-border traders to benefit from the import duty exemption on traded goods on the Common Lists.
The STR has been credited for increasing trade by small scale cross border traders dealing in small quantities of goods. The simplified clearing procedures has remarkably reduced the cost and time of clearing goods. Traders are not only able to make more trips across the border but there are reduced cases of harassment and seizure and loss of goods.
The onset of the Coronavirus pandemic has however presented the most formidable threat to this trading regime due to restrictions of movement across borders. As a result, programmes implemented by COMESA and development partners to promote the STR in selected border points such as the Great Lakes Trade Facilitation Project (GLTFP) have been compelled to review their modus operandi.
On 18 June 2020, COMESA conducted an online meeting with countries implementing the project to share plans for the coming period and to help harmonize activities especially on communication and advocacy to create synergies and avoid duplication. The implementing countries are DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
The meeting provided a forum for experience sharing and explored best strategies of supporting the small-scale traders to improve trading environment under the STR during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
It was agreed that the Secretariat works together with governments in these countries to support bilateral meetings and also organize a Ministerial meeting later in the year. The meeting stressed the need for the implementing teams to focus on activities that will enable small scale cross-border to continue operating at this time of the pandemic.
The four-year GLTFP project is scheduled to close in December 2021 for the COMESA Component, and June 2022 for the project countries.