July 31, 2020: The Tripartite Council of Ministers of three regional economic communities in the eastern and southern Africa have approved new harmonized trade and transport facilitation guidelines. The Tripartite Guidelines for the Movement of Persons, Goods and Services across the Tripartite Region During COVID-19 Pandemic, consolidates those developed earlier by COMESA, the East African Community and the Southern Africa Development Community into one, which will henceforth be applied across their 28 Member States.
They include: the COMESA- Guidelines for Movement of Goods and Services across the COMESA Region during the COVID-19 Pandemic, the EAC- Administrative Guidelines to Facilitate Movement of Goods and Services during COVID-19 Pandemic; and the SADC- Guidelines on Harmonization and Facilitation of Cross-Border Transport Operations across the Region during the COVID-19 Pandemic
The harmonization of these guidelines was necessitated by the overlapping membership of countries among the three economic blocs and the shared traffic on their transport corridors, which have been negatively impacted by the current COVID-19 response measures.
In a meeting conducted Thursday, July 2020 via teleconference, the Ministers directed the Tripartite Task Force to establish the required institutional arrangements for monitoring the implementation of the Guidelines. Ministers in charge of trade and transport and other government officials attended the meeting.
The Ministers also agreed on the development and integration of electronic surveillance systems to monitor drivers’ health and movement of trucks, which will be undertaken by Member/Partner States. They noted that COVID-19 cross-border restrictions have mainly targeted truck drivers leading to their stigmatization. This has not only affected the drivers and local communities, but also negatively impacted the ongoing efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“Those mobility restrictions to contain COVID-19 have affected regional trade and transport, and resulted in shortage of goods, and long queues at ports of entry and exit, translating into increased cost of doing business and consumer prices, but this will be a thing of the past,” said the Chairperson of the Tripartite Task Force Dr Stergomena Tax, who is the Executive Secretary of SADC.
With the Tripartite guidelines in place, she noted, the smooth flow of traffic for goods and services will ensure economic development of Member and partner States who have been affected by the pandemic and help them build their economies once again.
The Tripartite Council Chairperson who was represented by Assistant Minister for Foreign Trade, Agreements and International Relations of Egypt, Hon.Tarek Shalaby, said the harmonization of guidelines presents an opportunity towards the realization of the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) which was signed by the Tripartite Heads of State and Government in June, 2015.
“The attainment of tripartite and continental integration can only be realized with the harmonization of regional initiatives and overcoming the challenges of overlaps and multiple membership of COMESA, EAC and SADC,” he said.
Secretary General of COMESA, Chileshe Kapwepwe and Mr Kenneth Bagamuhunda, the representative of the Secretary General of EAC, Ambassador Liberat Mfumukeko attended the meeting among other delegates.