March 18, 2021: COMESA has established the Non-Tariff Barriers Regional Forum comprising of National Monitoring Committees and NTBs Focal Points. This new structure is aimed at further strengthening the Trade and Customs Committee and Trade and Trade Facilitation Sub- Committee as part of the institutional structures for the elimination of NTBs at the regional level.
The first meeting of the Forum began Tuesday, March 16, 2021 attended by over 60 NTB National Monitoring Committees and NTB focal points from COMESA Member States to learn about the provisions of the Revised COMESA NTB’s Regulations and Working Procedures focusing on the institutional arrangements and provisions for identification and elimination of NTB’s.
The establishment of the Forum follows the decision of the 41st Council of Ministers, meeting in November last year, which adopted the Revised COMESA Regulations on the Elimination of NTBs and Working Procedures.
Addressing the delegates, COMESA Director of Trade Dr Christopher Onyango attributed the prevalence of reported and unreported Non-Tariff Barriers to the constrained intra-regional trade noting that Member States have justified most of these as measures necessary to regulate trade.
“To date, intra COMESA NTBs constitute 21.9% of total NTBs reported in the Tripartite Online reporting, monitoring and eliminating mechanism, out of which 82% emanate from of operational issues while the remaining 18% are policies/measures that have resulted in NTBs,” the Director said.
He expressed concern that although all Member States have appointed effective NTBs Focal Points, only five Member States had formalized and notified the composition of their National Monitoring Committees (NMCs) to the Secretariat. Yet a well-functioning NMC was critical to the implementation of the Regulations and elimination of NTBs.
Noting that the use of NTBs has escalated following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Director observed that worldwide, they have become the major trade policy tool to protect domestic economies, accounting for on average 55% of the implemented protectionist interventions.
“Some NTBs have remained unresolved for periods ranging from one year to more than a decade. In contrast, since 2009, only 20% of all implemented protectionist interventions could be attributed to an increase in tariffs.
“This explains why the Secretariat, has continued to foster engagement with Member States to address the shortcomings that had stalled implementation of the NTB Regulations and prepared Working Procedures/modalities to facilitate their effective implementation,” he added.
Dr Onyango described the three days meeting as a critical step towards ensuring Member States do not fall back to uncoordinated restrictive trade policies whenever there is a crisis. For such strategies do not only fuel help anti-trade free trade rhetoric but result into even stronger slow-down in economic growth of our economies.
The meeting marks the beginning of a process where elimination of NTB’s will be managed through strict adherence to the provisions of the COMESA NTB’s Regulations. It is expected that effective implementation of a rules-based approach to addressing NTB’s will result in considerable increase in intra-COMESA trade.