This paper examines the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in Africa. It gives a macro view of the overall benefits that improved trade facilitation holds for Africa, and highlights some of the benefits that implementing the TFA has brought to the continent. It unpacks the notification process and African countries’ concerns during the negotiation period, and details the special and differential requirements that set the TFA apart from other multilateral trade agreements. It looks at existing constraints to the system, particularly in relation to donor-led trade facilitation assistance and the financing of trade facilitation projects in developing countries. The second part of the paper examines Zambia’s efforts at trade facilitation reforms. Zambia is an ideal case study for examining the political and economic challenges that landlocked lower-middle-income African countries face in driving trade facilitation reforms and improving their overall trade performance. The Zambian case study provides a snapshot of the challenges and status quo of trade facilitation reforms at four critical border posts. The paper concludes by highlighting potential best practices that have emerged from Zambia as takeaways for the broader Southern African region.
The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) officially entered into force in February 2017. The TFA aims to expedite the movement, release and clearance of goods, sets out measures for effective cooperation between customs and other relevant authorities, and provides for technical assistance and capacity building in this area.1 The TFA was adopted as a Ministerial Decision at the ninth WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali in 2013, and is considered a much-needed step to restore the WTO’s credibility and relevance. The TFA entered into force on 22 February 2017 after being ratified by two-thirds (110 of 164) of WTO members, and sent an important signal of cooperation and a willingness to work towards achieving multilateral trade reforms within the WTO architecture. This was no small feat considering the growing global questions around the relevance of the WTO.
Trade facilitation operates across three key areas.
∙ Simplification: the number of documents and procedures associated with the clearance of goods is reduced.
∙ Harmonisation: customs procedures are improved so that they are compatible with international standards. Typical actions include consultations between national customs agencies, international exchange of data, and alignment of procedures with international standards.
∙ Transparency: trade costs are minimised if customs procedures and regulations are transparent and clear in their application across ports of entry, ensuring that enforcement is fair and consistent.
However, African countries require additional reforms. To this end, the TFA contains specific provisions relating to Special and Differential Treatment (SDT), including the creation of a TFA Facility. These provisions are designed to enable developing countries and least developed countries (LDCs) to implement the TFA over a prolonged period.
The TFA Facility faces various challenges in providing financial and technical resources to developing countries and LDCs to assist with TFA implementation. As a landlocked lowermiddle-income country (LMIC), Zambia provides an ideal case study for examining the political and economic challenges that low-income African countries encounter in driving trade facilitation reforms and improving their overall trade performance. Four critical Zambian border posts give a snapshot of the challenges in – and status quo of – trade facilitation reforms at these border crossings. Potential best practices that have emerged from Zambia in TFA implementation, as well as potential improvements, can serve as takeaways for the broader Southern African region.
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