1. Background

The Treaty establishing the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), among other things, emphasizes harmonization of agricultural policy across the region to promote agricultural development and intra-regional trade. However, intra-regional agricultural trade remains poorly developed. Several studies (Cadot and Gourdon, 2014; AATM, 2019; World Bank, 2014) show that there is an economic basis for mutually beneficial trade in agricultural inputs and commodities and that significant opportunities exist to expand intra-COMESA trade in these products. However, these are constrained by several factors, as indicated by analytical work carried out by COMESA under the Breaking Barriers – Facilitating Trade Project in 2016-2017, as follows:

  • Proliferation of non-tariff measures amongst the six target countries of Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe;
  • Cumbersome procedures faced by traders in the 6 COMESA Member States (MS) in obtaining Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary Measures (SPS) documents, quality certificates and other documents in order to process transactions.
  • Lack of mutual recognition of technical regulations and conformity assessment due to capacity constraints – which pose a serious constraint to intra-regional trade in agricultural commodities in the region;
  • Differences in quality and conformity assessment measures which often cause regulatory or technical barriers to trade. This remains a significant cause of high costs of trading and trade disruptions, hence one of the main reasons for low intra-COMESA agriculture trade and for the region to remain a net importer of food, with food imports increasing at 3.2% per year since the early 1990s;
  • Non-harmonised SPS measures, regulations, and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs); and,
  • Lack of capacity/capability/mechanism for risk-based methods (surveillance, sampling, testing, inspection, etc.).

This Programme lays out investments to jumpstart a more dynamic intra-regional trade in select food commodities by supporting the development and implementation of mutual recognition framework (MRF) as a key instrument not only to support a more predictable environment for regional food trade but also provides some flexibility in transaction costs reduction, based on the lessons of COMESA MRA/MRF pilot, which shows that MRFs/MRAs require sustained trust in each other’s regulatory systems, structures and procedures for accreditation and conformity assessment, and – an internationally recognized quality infrastructure system.

The project seeks to deploy mutual recognition framework (MRF) as a key instrument not only to support a more predictable environment for regional food trade but also to provide some flexibility in reducing the time and costs of trading by eliminating the need for redundant testing and/or certification.  With mutual recognition of conformity assessment procedures, technical standards and equivalence of food control systems, underpinned by mutually agreed standard operating procedures (SOPs) for traders and inspectors, the intervention removes the need for multiple inspections and testing in the exporting and importing countries and contributes to predictable regulatory environment as well as low trade costs. In sum, the intervention will improve regulatory efficiency in cross border trade in food commodities in the region.

  1. Project Objective

The overall objective of this project is to increase intra-regional regional trade by improving the trade policy and regulatory environment through the development and implementation of a Mutual Recognition Framework (MRF) and Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) for smooth implementation and monitoring of SPS measures and technical standards amongst six trading member states of COMESA, namely, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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Post expires at 12:00pm on Wednesday April 21st, 2021

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