Experts Propose Policy Reforms to Expand STR Products Range

The range of goods traded under the COMESA Simplified Trade Regime (STR) is set to expand following policy recommendations made last week by trade experts.

Meeting in Kenya during a Policy Dialogue on STR Implementation, 8 – 9 October 2019, the experts proposed that imports from countries participating in the COMESA Free Trade Area (FTA), should be accorded preferential tariff treatment in bilateral STR arrangements.

“As long as the goods qualify under the COMESA Rules of Origin, they should be granted preferential treatment in the bilateral STR,” the experts said in their report. The goods from third party countries should however be listed in the bilateral Common List agreed upon by two neighbouring countries.

The recommendation is aimed at benefiting small scale cross border traders who source for goods from across the region.

The STR is a simplified procedure and documentation whose objective is to enable the small-scale cross border trader’s with products with a threshold value of $2000, to benefit from tariff preferences available under COMESA.

The implementation of the trade regime is premised on four key tools: The Simplified Certificate of Origin; the Simplified Customs Document; the Common Lists and the Threshold (value of products traded under the STR.)

The Common List refers to a list of products agreed upon between two neighbouring States to be traded across their common border without levying imports duties under the COMESA STR.

The dialogue was organized by COMESA, under the 11 European Development Fund (EDF) Small Scale Cross Border Trade Initiative (SCCBTI). The objective was to discuss policy and technical aspects of the STR implementation, the challenges faced and propose recommendations to develop a common understanding and approach.

Ten countries including Burundi, DR Congo, Eritrea, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe participated.

Stressing the need for reforms in STR implementation, the Secretary of Trade in the Ministry of Trade and Co-operatives, Kenya, Dr Joyce Ogundo, said the dynamics of trade and consumer tastes require policy changes at regional  level to bring uniformity in the application and processing of the STR transactions.

“It is therefore important that governments of countries implementing the STR through border agencies embrace the reforms in order for the STR to work effectively and thereby support our cross-border traders.”

The experts proposed reforms targeted at border posts implementing the STR to harmonize the operations across the region. Specifically, they cited inspections for Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS) and the speed of clearance by Customs as key impediments that requires changes to facilitate trade. They also agreed on the need for Member States to increase the frequency of updating their STR Common Lists on an annual basis through bilateral consultations.

Further, they agreed on the need to develop a sustainability and reporting framework for Trade Information Desk Officers (TIDOs), who facilitate small-scale traders at border points. In this regard, COMESA Secretariat will conduct studies to develop the framework after which it will be validated by all stakeholders in the Member States.

As part of bench-marking and experience-sharing, the forum received presentations on the implementation of the STR in the East Africa Community (EAC), the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the Great Lakes Trade Facilitation Project (GLTFP) which is funded by the World Bank and is implementing the trade regime as well.

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