Single Window along with the Trade Facilitation Agreement to boost effective trade in Africa

Solomon Afework

The adoption of Single Window and electronic exchanges for handling import and export procedures and formalities are innovative ways to boost trade, efficiencies and increased revenue collection for governments, said participants at a meeting facilitated by the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry on May 22 to May 23, 2017 at the UNECA.

The meeting that discussed the challenge around the implementation and operation of the Single Window in Africa and the ways the chamber of commerce and other business support associations can influence the trade facilitation implementation process, underlined that the use of the Single Window system will increase productivity and result in more competitive trade in Africa.

“In my view, the adoption and use of the single window system as a key component of trade policy provides many benefits to the business community as it reduces the transaction cost of trade. As we know the entry into force of the WTO trade facilitation agreement launches a new phase for trade facilitation reforms all over the world and creates a significant boost for commerce and the multilateral trading system as a whole. It is forecasted that full implementation of the TFA will reduce trade cost by an average of 14.3 percent,” said Solomon Afework, Vice President, Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) was entered into force on 22 February 2017 after it was ratified by two-thirds of the World Trade Organization (WTO) membership. The TFA contains provisions for expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit.

It also sets out measures for effective cooperation between customs and other appropriate authorities on trade facilitation and customs compliance issues. It is a major tool for removing bureaucratic delays and red tape that pose a burden for moving goods across the continent.

“Once the TFA is fully implemented, developing countries are predicted to increase the number of new products exported by as much as 20 percent, and least developed countries (LDCs) are likely to see an increase of up to 35 per cent,” Solomon said.

According to Dr. David Luke, Coordinator African Trade Policy Center, UNECA, with the entry into force of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, there is currently a lot of momentum inthis particular area of trade policy and if strategically used, the technical assistance provisions of the TFA could be used to enhance implementation of the Single Window on the continent.

“Given the cost and complexity of single window systems, technical and financial assistance is of course important for implementation. However, implementation will only be successful if the concept and its benefits, are fully understood and internalized among the key stakeholders in the process,” Luke said underlining the importance of the meeting.

Dr. Luke also emphasised that although African countries are in the process of negotiating a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) and the negotiation is expected to be completed by the end of this year, eliminating tariffson the continent will not be enough to bring the transformative benefits expected from the CFTA.

Our countries are in the process of negotiating a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA). The first stage of the negotiations is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

“ECA modelling has shown that the implementation of trade facilitation measures would double the benefit in intra-African trade.We should also not forget that reducing administrative barriers would bring benefits in particular to the small scale businesses with more limited resources, including women owned enterprises. A single window could therefore help in ensuring that the benefits of the CFTA will be felt more widely,” he concluded.