A new Short Messaging Service (SMS) for reporting trade barriers within the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA); the East African Community (EAC); and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has been modified to improve regional adoptability and reduce tariff charges.
The SMS tool was first launched in Zambia in 2013 to enable economic operators access the internet, especially informal and small scale traders.
However, the central number to which SMS messages to report trade obstacles could be sent from different countries was expensive as economic operators incurred roaming charges.
Publicising it to the relevant players in each of the countries was also a challenge as local users did not identify with the foreign numbers making up the central number.
“The system was further faced with sustainability challenges as it was operated outside the National NTBs structures thereby requiring continued donor support to cater for administrative costs,” Tazara Muzorori, Senior Trade Officer, COMESA noted.
These warranted the re-design of the SMS system which was supported by the African Development Bank-funded Tripartite Capacity Building Programme.
The modified reporting tool eliminates roaming charges with each country installing and operating the toll using a central national number at a national level to which messages on trade obstacles can be sent.
The central number will then relay the SMSs to identified Focal Points numbers and the current online reporting system.
The new SMS tool is hosted and operated by National Focal Points in the individual Tripartite Countries.
The Union of the Comoros is the first country to launch the new NTB SMS tool which is now being rolled-out to COMESA member states.
It will supplement the current web-based online reporting system used by the tripartite regional economic blocs. Operationalised in 2010, the Tripartite online system it is a real-time solution for reporting, monitoring and eliminating Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) such as road blocks and delays in processing export/import documentations and permits encountered while doing business in the tripartite region.