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ECA calls on governments to harmonise trade, cross-border policies

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Report seeks Africa’s compliance with COVID-19 border regulations

The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), has called on governments in Africa to adopt and harmonise policies that would help the continent strike an appropriate balance between curbing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and facilitating emergency and essential trade.

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In a new ECA report, titled; “Facilitating cross-border trade through a coordinated African response to COVID-19,” the Commission said continued inefficiencies and disruptions to cross-border trade presented significant challenges for Africa’s fight against COVID-19, and could hold back its progress towards attaining sustainable development goals (SDGs), and its Agenda 2063.

Speaking during the launch, Director, Regional Integration and Trade Division (RITD), ECA, Stephen Karingi, who penned the report, said maintaining trade flows as much as possible during the pandemic is crucial in providing access to essential food, and the much-needed medical items, and in limiting negative impacts on jobs and poverty.

He maintained that to curtail the rapid spread of the virus, African nations introduced various restrictions that negatively affected cross-border and transit freight transportation, noting that some regulations helped minimise infections and deaths across the continent, but had a negative impact on cross-border trade and economic activity, hindering both significantly.

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He recommended that African nations should cooperate and harmonise COVID-19 border regulations, to reduce delays and fast track the implementation of existing Regional Economic Community (REC) COVID-19 guidelines, including establishing regional coordinating committees with the primary task of addressing operational issues at national borders.

According to the report, regional efforts must also be coordinated at continental level through the African Union Commission, stressing the need for the adoption of the COVID-19 AU Protocol on trade and transport, given the overlap in membership of RECs, and shared trade facilitation goals of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Karingi said: “In developing such a protocol, the experiences and best practices of RECs need to be taken into account. A common African Union COVID-19 test certificate for truck drivers and crew members will be crucial to facilitate the movement of essential personnel across borders with the least possible interference.

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“COVID-19 has increased the urgency for us to do better and find innovative solutions to facilitate safe and efficient cross-border trade. It will be important for Africa to maintain and upgrade these solutions post-COVID-19, to lower trade costs, boost competitiveness, and support more resilient cross-border trade, in the face of future shocks.”

He charged African economies not to let the pandemic undermine regional integration, and to maintain the momentum and ambition of the AfCFTA process.

On his part, Lovemore Bingandadi of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said COVID-19 lessons should be used to improve efficiencies in cross-border trade on the continent.

“Africa’s response could have been better had they been done at the continental level when the pandemic struck. Nevertheless, it has given us an opportunity to address in a coordinated way longstanding cross-border trade challenges that we face,” he said.

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He emphasised that continental solutions were the best way to deal with the border inefficiencies and cross-border trade issues, adding that AfCFTA would go a long way in helping address these.

On her part, Director, Technology and Logistics, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Shamika Sirimanne, emphasised the importance of innovation and technology in fighting the pandemic and in helping Africa build back better in the aftermath of the crisis.

“COVID-19 has shown us the need for information-sharing and use of technologies for coordinated responses in the area of trade and transport connectivity,” said Sirimanne.

The panellists and participants agreed that digital solutions were crucial in helping the continent address outstanding cross border trade issues, for example, electronic cargo tracking systems, electronic signatures and documents, and the use of mobile banking and payment systems to support safe and efficient trade.

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