November 2018 WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement workshop for Southern Africa tackles lack of coordination between competent authorities at border crossings.  
     
 
 
 
 
   
 

Cape Town, 16 November 2018. In most countries, traditionally, border control is the responsibility of Customs and Immigration Authorities. However, over time and with increasing complexity of international trade and sophistication of import controls, other more technically oriented authorities have engaged in dispatching their own staff to border crossings, in order to safeguard their mandate – these include animal and crop health, public health, trade, security and others.

The various agencies have different mandates and interests and have not always been known to work or collaborate well; this can sometimes result in trade disruptions. The World Trade Organisation(WTO) established the Trade Facilitation Agreement(TFA) in February 2017, in an attempt to foster safe trade, by promoting amongst others, better on-site border inter-agency cooperation, i.e. at the border crossings.

Countries have repeatedly pointed out that poor border inter-agency cooperation presents an important hindrance to the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). In addition, and for animal and plant products, the TFA is sometimes perceived as compromising robust sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) measures.

In order to address these challenges, the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility (TFAF), the WTO Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF), the World Bank Group and the OIE, in partnership with the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), the International Plant Protection Convention(IPPC), The United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and the Small Island Developing States(UN-OHRLLS) and the World Customs Organisation (WCO), held a workshop to discuss issues of border control, with specific reference to trade facilitation.

The purpose of the workshop was to improve border agency cooperation at the national and regional levels as provided in articles 8, 10 and 11 of the TFA. Specifically, the workshop sought to raise awareness on the linkages between the TFA and SPS Agreement, and explore ways in which coordination of border clearance processes can facilitate trade, while ensuring/reinforcing human, animal or plant life and health. This includes the specific issue of improving cooperation among border agencies in transit countries.

The target group consisted of Southern African countries, i.e. Angola, Botswana, eSwatini (Swaziland), Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and one Eastern African country (Ethiopia). Participants from each country were drawn from the main border agencies (i.e. animal health, plant health, trade, public health, and customs, seated together as part of a round table setup (see pictures).

Resource persons were drawn from the lead organisations, as well as from the WTO SPS Committee, the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC, an FAO-based body) and the international food standard-setting body, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (an FAO and WHO body) and the International Standards Organization (ISO).

In their feedback, participants acknowledged having learned a lot from their fellow country representatives, i.e. from other border agencies, as well as from their international counterparts (trading partners). Participants identified the need to establish joint border committees, do joint inspections to facilitate trade, conduct interactive trainings on WTO Agreements, process permits electronically (e-certification), better share information (e.g. through a trade portal), etc.

The single most important revelation from this meeting was that border agencies are not communicating/collaborating enough, but instead operate in isolation, merely pursuing their own mandate without due consideration of the impact of their actions on others. As a way forward countries were encouraged to continue this conversation back home and collaborate better, now that they identified the challenges. Most challenges could actually be solved by border agencies working together and coordinating their activities better; in this respect, customs agencies should play the leading coordination role

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More information: Moetapele Letshwenyo

 
     
 

All pictures © World Trade Organisation (WTO) 2018, except when mentioned otherwise

 
 
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