AN African Union (AU) Customs Experts delegation was in Zimbabwe recently to take stock and reflect on the transit procedures applicable within the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) with a view to harmonising them, as such laying the ground work for the establishment of the African Economic Community as envisaged by the Abuja Treaty.

One of the key aims of the group’s visit was to experience first hand the operation of a One Stop Border Post, which has been pioneered by very few countries. The Chirundu border post between Zambia and Zimbabwe is one quintessential example.

The One Stop Border system in the Chirundu area is one in which the two countries have tried to integrate their systems to enhance effective operations at the border that is divided by the Zambezi River.

The juxtaposed Chirundu border system was launched by the respective Heads of State on December 5, 2009.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority’s acting commissioner-general Mr George Chiradza gave some insightful words as relates transit and the ICT revolution at the official opening of the AU customs workshop in Harare:

“Challenges affecting the continent on transit procedures need modern solutions. Many operations in the modern world are now ably supported by high modernisation and technology, especially ICT.

“Africa should not lag behind as the rest of the world is moving ahead, dumping cumbersome manual processes. Let us be challenged to move together with the rest of the world.”

But then Zimbabwe and Zambia are no Hong Kong, both in terms of ICT infrastructure development or financial wherewithal – a point well appreciated by some members of the visiting delegation who brilliantly suggested that the two countries should work on the establishment of viewing rights to the other’s border operating system(s), which would facilitate registration and acquittal procedures.

The station manager for the Zambian side, Mr Nkoma’s take on the issue was laconic:

“Let me hasten to say that the concept is working, but are in still in the process of fine tuning. Our processes are currently manual; ideally we require the establishment of electronic systems for increased connectivity.”

The One Stop Border concept is a key example of harmonized transit procedures insofar as it is a microcosm of the Customs Union macrocosm. It deals with the same fundamental aspects, for instance, a Common External Tariff (CET) on imports; duty-free trade between the member states; and common customs procedures.

Technical work is required if there is going to be harmonisation and modernisation of customs procedures in the RECs’ major ports of entry.

Operational Customs Unions in the sub-Saharan African region are yet to be fully implemented, because there is a sizeable list of exclusions to the Common External Tariff and tariff-free movement of goods and services. The expected revenue benefits are perceived as minimal by customs analysts, based on comparative-static simulation exercises demonstrating the one-off impacts of the immediate introduction of the Customs Union's full tariff package.

Harmonisation of customs and transit procedures at the regional has been touted as beneficial, especially for landlocked countries such as Zimbabwe and Zambia (as cases in point) in the enhancement of export growth.

A critical step that has been taken by both countries in that direction is that in May of this year the neighboring countries and trading partners that are Zimbabwe and Zambia, signed an agreement for the implementation of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)’s Simplified Trade Regime aimed at promoting bilateral trade for their respective small-to-medium enterprises.

Both Zimbabwe and Zambia are also members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The visiting delegation consisted of representatives from the following RECs and intergovernmental and international organisations: COMESA, East African Community (EAC), and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), SADC, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the World Customs Organisation (WCO) were also represented, including a number of AU country representations.


Source: The Herald