Notable Rise in Trade Barriers as Countries Responded to Covid-19

There has been a notable increase in the number of Non-Tariff Barriers during the COVID-19 pandemic period as countries increasingly took discretionary measures to contain the spread of the virus.

COMESA Director of trade Dr Chris Onyango told delegates attending the fifth Meeting of the COMESA Trade and Trade Facilitation Sub-Committee last week, 6-8 October 2020, that during the COVID 19 era, measures put in place by Member States have disrupted global value chains, radically reduced dependency on imports and rallied States towards the path of protectionism.

“Despite the significant milestones in dealing with NTB issues including rules, regulations, working procedures and online NTB monitoring systems, they have remained a major hindrance to growth and expansion of intra-COMESA trade,” he said.

He implored countries to continue reviewing and improving existing regulations and mechanisms taking into account changing eco systems, understanding key causes, analyzing regulatory regimes, production techniques and technological advancements.

Though largely legitimate, behind-the-border measures have increasingly become more prohibitive to free flow of goods across borders. The Director called for effective regulations given that open borders are vital in ensuring safe and cost-efficient supply of medicines and medical supplies.

“Member States should simply avoid introducing NTBs to allow trade to thrive for in the end, no single party benefits from restraining trade. I can attest to you delegates that even in the imposing countries on aggregate, competitiveness in production and market prices are comprised, and consumer welfare undermined by constrained choices, tastes and preferences,” Dr Onyango stressed.

The meeting brought together experts from various areas to discuss trade and trade-related matters which are termed as salient pillars of regional economic integration. It was attended by delegates from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eswatini, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles, Somalia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The mandate of the Committee includes trade promotion, rules of origin, non-tariff barriers, trade remedies, trade negotiations, and other contemporary trade policy issues which are cardinal to the smooth flow of regional trade.

Meanwhile, the Director appealed to Member States to nominate their focal persons to enable the utilization of the online portal that was developed by the COMESA Secretariat for exchange of information on availability of essential products and promote them.

The online platform is among the innovative mechanisms COMESA Member States can take advantage of while addressing bottlenecks occasioned by Coronavirus and boost preparedness to any future pandemics.

The three-day meeting covered key issues in regional integration including updates on economic and trade performances, developments in internal markets, including NTBs, implementation of Trade Facilitation Projects under the European Development Fund (EDF-II) programme and updates on negotiations under the Tripartite and the ACFTA.

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