The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) has launched a new COVID-19 cross-border trade report urging governments on the continent to adopt and harmonise policies that will help continent strike an appropriate balance between curbing the spread of the virus and facilitating emergency and essential trade.
Titled Facilitating cross-border trade through a coordinated African response to COVID-19, the report says continued inefficiencies and disruptions to cross-border trade presented significant challenges for Africa’s fight against COVID-19, and risked holding back the continent’s progress towards the attainment of the sustainable development and goals and Africa’s Agenda 2063.
Maintaining trade flows as much as possible during the pandemic will be crucial in providing access to essential food and much-needed medical items and in limiting negative impacts on jobs and poverty, said Mr Stephen Karingi, Director of the ECA’s Regional Integration and Trade Division (RITD) that penned the report.
To curtail the rapid spread of the virus, African nations introduced lockdowns and various restrictions that negatively affected cross-border and transit freight transportation.
The border restrictions and regulations have helped minimize infections and deaths across the continent but had a negative impact on cross-border trade and economic activity, hindering both significantly.
The report recommends that African nations should cooperate and harmonise COVID-19 border regulations to reduce delays, while not undermining the safety of trade. It proposes fast tracking implementation of existing Regional Economic Community (REC) COVID-19 guidelines, including establishing regional coordinating committees with the primary task of addressing operational issues at national borders.
In addition, the report says regional efforts must also be coordinated at continental level through the African Union Commission. A common COVID-19 AU Protocol on trade and transport is needed given the overlap in membership of RECs and shared trade facilitation goals of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
“In developing such a protocol, the experiences and best practices of RECs need to be taken into account,” said Mr Karingi during the launch.
A common African Union COVID-19 test certificate for truck drivers and crew members will be crucial to facilitate movement of essential personnel across borders with the least possible interference.
Amid the pandemic, African economies should not let COVID-19 undermine regional integration and must maintain the momentum and ambition of the AfCFTA process, said Mr Karingi.
Panellists and participants agreed that digital solutions are crucial in helping continent address outstanding cross border trade issues for example electronic cargo tracking systems, electronic signatures and documents, and the use of mobile banking and payment systems to support safe and efficient trade.
“COVID-19 has increased the urgency for us to do better and find innovative solutions to facilitate safe and efficient cross-border trade. It will be important for Africa to maintain and upgrade these solutions post COVID-19, to lower trade costs, boost competitiveness, and support more resilient cross-border trade in the face of future shocks,” said Mr Karingi.
For his part, Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Lovemore Bingandadi said COVID-19 lessons should be used to improve efficiencies in cross-border trade on the continent.
“Africa’s response could have been better had they been done at continental level when the pandemic struck. Nevertheless, it has given us an opportunity to address in a coordinated way longstanding cross-border trade challenges that we face,” he said.
Mr Bingandadi emphasized continental solutions were the best way to deal with the border inefficiencies and cross-border trade issues, adding the AfCFTA would go a long way in helping address these.
UNCTAD’s Technology and Logistics Director, Shamika Sirimanne, for her part emphasized the importance of innovation and technology to fight the pandemic and in helping Africa building back better in the aftermath of the crisis.
“COVID-19 has shown us the need for information-sharing and use of technologies for coordinated responses in the area of trade and transport connectivity,” said Ms Sirimanne.
Learn More: UNECA
Photo of Cape Town port by Douglas Bagg on Unsplash