Botswana towers over peers in trade reforms

CAPE TOWN: Botswana’s leading role in ratifying the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) will reduce costs associated with trading of its goods and services by an estimated 13.2 percent.

This was said by an official of the  Switzerland-based institution at a workshop held here this week.

Parliament ratified Botswana’s commitment to the TFA in June this year to become the second African state to do so and the eighth country in the 161-member trade organisation.

The TFA is aimed at expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit.

It also sets out measures for effective cooperation between customs and other appropriate authorities on trade facilitation and customs compliance issues. 

Speaking at the workshop on Wednesday, WTO’s head of external relations, Bernard Kuiten praised Botswana’s early commitment towards the agreement, which is expected to increase  global exports by between US$ 1.1 trillion and US$ 3.6 trillion depending on the timeframe and extent to which the provisions of the TFA are implemented.

“To take a leading role as Botswana did is very plausible, especially among developing countries that still face many challenges in enabling smooth trade. 

We hope more African countries will follow in the same footsteps so that we can reach the two-thirds of the 161 members needed for the agreement to be enforced,” he said.

As at October, 52 countries had committed to the agreement.

Concluded at the WTO’s 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference, the TFA is the first multilateral trade agreement concluded since the establishment of the WTO in 1995.

“The TFA broke new ground for developing and least-developed countries in the way it will be implemented. 

For the first time in WTO history, the requirement to implement the agreement was directly linked to the capacity of the country to do so.

In addition, the agreement states that assistance and support should be provided to help them achieve that capacity,” he added.

A Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility (TFAF) was also created at the request of developing and least-developed country members to help ensure that they receive the assistance needed.  The facility will assist such countries to reap the full benefits of the TFA and to support the ultimate goal of full implementation of the new agreement by all members.

Presenting a paper on Trade Facilitation and Non-Tariff Barriers at the workshop, a researcher at the Trade Law Centre, Willemien Viljoen said the challenges faced by Southern African countries, if addressed, present an opportunity to increase benefits associated with trade liberalisation, which can contribute to economic growth, development and poverty alleviation.

Among some of the factors that Viljoen said usually contribute to high cost of doing business in the region include high transaction costs and complex trade procedures, high transportation costs, inadequate and inefficient infrastructure (including road, rail and ports), weighbridge calibrations and technical standards, roadblocks and checkpoints, corruption and excessive documentation requirements.

Although Botswana has outpaced its Southern African peers in implementing the trade reforms, Viljoen said the country still needs to improve in areas such as electronic payment, use of customs brokers, risk management and border agency coordination.

The workshop, which was organised in conjunction with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), was held under the theme ‘Current and Future Challenges for the Multilateral Trading System – Perspectives from Southern Africa’.

Civil society and media delegates from Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe participated in the workshop.

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