The bold decision by three East and Southern Africa Regional economic communities to form a Free Trade Area (FTA) would reduce poverty and improve sustainable economic development in marginalised countries, the Assistant Minister of Trade & Industry, Vincent Seretse, has said.
Seretse said the FTA is an unprecedented arrangement, bringing together the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and East African Community (EAC) into a single trading block and is drawn from an African Union blueprint of accelerating continental economic integration.
Addressing delegates from 22 countries attending the 17th World Customs Organisation (WCO) East and Southern Africa (ESA) region Governing Council Meeting hosted by the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) in Gaborone on May 24, Seretse highlighted: “Heads of Customs are aware that in countries in the region are at times overlapping regional economic communities (RECs), sharing broadly similar objectives but using different and sometimes conflicting operational modalities or trade liberalization implementation schedules. Without proper Customs Administrations (CAs) interventions, this could lead to limited resources spread thinly over a number of institutions, limiting effectiveness in carrying out their functions.
“CAs heads should rise to the challenge to ensure overlapping memberships to various RECs do not hinder the process of regional integration, both legally and operationally. To accelerate regional sustainable economic growth, we need to implement common, simple, predictable joint programmes in Customs, trade and economic liberalisation. This can be achieved by harmonising customs systems and procedures of participating member states. The important role WCO play in that regard cannot be overemphasised for providing the framework, which facilitates Customs systems and procedures in the region.”
Seretse said regional economic integration facilitates CA’s roles of grappling with issues of corruption, transparency, accountability, codes of ethics and conduct. The issue of corruption, regarded by Africans as a serious problem, rated in the same category as the AIDS epidemic or armed insurrection. However, it occupies centre-stage of state reform and corporate governance improvement programmes of developing countries beginning from the 1990s.
Whereas corruption has become a malaise for the entire world, Africa is regarded as least able to bear the heavy costs in view of the continent’s debilitating poverty. In spite of signs of positive economic performance after two decades of negative growth, the majority of African countries remain impoverished, threatening to wipe out prospects of sustained development through institutionalised corruption.
Botswana, which became a WCO member in 1978 has adopted its conventions and agreements such as the International Convention on the Simplification and Harmonisation of Customs Procedures, commonly referred to as the Kyoto Convention; International Convention on the Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding Systems; the Agreement on the Implementation of Article VII of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Valuation Agreement.
James Lenaghan, the ESA Regional Vic-Chairman, said the forum would evaluate the WCO-ESA achievements during 2012, challenges and strategies to fulfil effective and efficient CAs. Revenue collection, trade facilitation best practices, modern technological solutions, ICT have reduced costs and time of doing business across borders: key factors for attracting foreign direct investment.
“The participation of other players such as RECs improves capacity building initiatives and the channelling of donor funds.”
BURS Commissioner General, Ken Morris, said the WCO-ESA Governing Council would continue to provide an appropriate high level information exchange and decision-making platform. Through this regional platform, CAs would keep up with the ever-increasing challenges resulting from the rapid increase in international trade and passenger traffic, acceleration in economic integration and technological changes.