WTO Urges African Governments to Dismantle Barriers to Trade

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It takes approximately nine billion documents to move goods across the globe annually, with a shipper having to pay an extra one percent of the total transaction cost each day that his/her container remains at the border, Director of Information and External Relations Division of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Keith Rockwell, has disclosed.

He has, therefore, appealed for a speedy ratification of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) by member countries that are yet to do so as it will enhance intra-regional trade and make the continent more competitive in the global commerce space.

According to him, the TFA will, among others, reduce the global cost of transactions, incentivise small and medium enterprises to explore and take advantage of gray areas within the exports space and boost foreign direct investments to the continent.

He told a gathering of African journalists and civil society organisations in Accra that “trade facilitation will save time and money for both producers and consumers, aside from being a big incentive for small and medium-sized businesses in the region.”

Mr Rockwell asked African governments to leverage available funds from the WTO Global Trust Fund, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the World Bank and other donor organisations to enhance their capacity in the facilitation of trade.

“There are funds available to help digitise customs processes as well as build capacity towards the effective implementation of the TFA,” he stressed, speaking on the topic, “Implementing the TFA: Challenges and Opportunities for African Countries”.

He added: “In this part of the world, there are a lot of barriers to regional trade, but it is critically important that African countries trade more together.

“Trading with your neighbour is something that should be much easier than trading with people far away because there are similarities in taste, cultural orientation, and proximity. It should be something that takes place on a much bigger scale than it currently does.”

Figures from the global trade administrator show that the full and effective implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will reduce global trade costs by 14 percent, with African countries tipped to enjoy even bigger reductions.

It is also expected to boost the growth of developed and least developed countries (LDCs) as it will increase diversification of exportable goods, raise yearly exports by 3.5 percent and contribute about 0.9 percent in annual economic output.

By 2030, the implementation of the TFA could add up to 2.7 percent growth in annual exports, move up global GDP to more than 0.5 percent with even larger gains for developing countries and LDCs where current trade costs are equivalent to applying 219 percent tariff on international trade.

According to Mr. Rockwell, the adoption of transparent and paperless procedures will enhance trade among African countries and to the rest of the world as a whole.

“If the business person knows what is required of her/him, it makes it much easier to engage in any business activity,

Moreover, if you can obtain the documents you require and pay at a single place, better known as the single window that will save time and money,” he indicated.

The concept of trade facilitation agreement is basically to simplify the import and export processes; enjoin signatories to be more transparent with customs procedures, and harmonise international trade to bring down transaction costs.

It has also been tipped as a huge step towards improving the trade environment by reducing the cost of doing business at the borders, aside from bolstering the relatively low intra-African trade figures.

The three-day dialogue on the theme “Challenges for the multilateral trading system—perspectives from West Africa” was organised by the World Trade Organisation and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES).

The event brought together representatives from civil society organisations, policy makers and media practitioners drawn from across the region to discuss how to enhance ECOWAS members can explore the gains of the multilateral trading system.

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