Trade Hub: Obliterating Africa’s trade bottlenecks

Kevin O'loughlin
Kevin O'loughlin

In the last five years of operation, the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Southern Africa Trade Hub invested $50 million (P500 million) in eight Southern African countries. BusinessWeek Staff Writer PAULINE DIKUELO spoke to USAID/Southern Africa senior outreach and communications officer, Kevin O’Loughlin to gain insight into their achievements since inception

Business Week: Despite the majority of activities of USAID being regional in nature, which ones did certainly target Botswana as a direct beneficiary?

Kevin O’Loughlin: The Trade Hub is working closely with the government of Botswana to develop the National Single Window, which will connect all users to a single electronic data information exchange platform in order to reduce the time and cost of trade.

The Trade Hub has made possible many other specific activities in Botswana, including the development of a handbook of requirements for company registration and business licensing to be used by Botswana in their investment promotion efforts, support for textiles and apparel companies to attend major trade shows in Cape Town and Las Vegas.


We are also working on the establishment of a National Enquiry Point, which will be launched before the end of 2015 in coordination with the Botswana Bureau of Standards that will help Botswana comply with World Trade Organisation (WTO) member recommendations.

BusinessWeek: The Trade Hub aims to reduce the cost of doing business, improve investment climate and facilitate the adoption of modern trade facilitation tools in Botswana.

Would you say this has been attained and if so how?

O’Loughlin: The Trade Hub is indeed working with Botswana to reduce the cost of doing business, improve the investment climate, and facilitate the adoption of modern trade facilitation tools including National Single Window.

Through the Trade Hub, USAID has supported the Government of Botswana to initiate and implement the National Single Window process, which achieved a major milestone with the signing of a Presidential Directive in January of this year.

Currently, the Trade Hub is working alongside Botswana Unified Revenue Services, the lead agency for National Single Window, to help make this cutting edge trade facilitation tool a reality for the country.

The Trade Hub is also helping Botswana draft a new Customs Act that will help modernise and simplify customs procedures. 

BusinessWeek: The Trade Hub serves to increase capacity for regulating and enhancing the clean energy sector to increase investments.

How has the Trade Hub helped Botswana in this regard?

O’Loughlin: USAID’s Southern Africa Trade Hub has worked with the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources to advise them on the creation of an energy regulatory agency, which is to be established in the future by the ministry.

We worked closely with Rural Electricity Regulators Association building their capacity to support SADC member states with a harmonised regulatory regime and increased institutional capacity of each country’s regulators.

In addition, we have facilitated a clean energy dialogue between the ministry and donors in support of renewable energy projects.

We also continue to participate in the SADC Energy Working Group that coordinates international cooperating partners on all energy development issues.

BusinessWeek: Since the inception of this project, has it achieved its goal of increasing international competitiveness, regional trade and food security in Southern Africa?

O’Loughlin: The Trade Hub has made significant progress towards these goals. In the past year Malawi, Namibia and Botswana accelerated the adoption of a National Single Window, a trade facilitation system that allows traders to submit all required import/export information via a single electronic gateway, with the long-term potential to decrease time and transaction costs for traders by at least 25 percent. 

Similarly, the programme has worked throughout Southern Africa to create National Enquiry Points, ‘one stop shops’ identifying standards, technical regulations and conformity procedures for the WTO and other international bodies. Traders in the region also benefit from Trade Information Portals, which reduce transaction costs for traders by streamlining access to trade-related information. 

The Southern Africa Trade Hub’s support of Southern African textile and apparel manufacturers in the Source Africa trade show in Cape Town this year resulted in significant deals in advance with major US retail chains.

One woman-owned and managed apparel factory, which employs more than 600 disadvantaged women (50 percent of whom have HIV or TB) procured $2.2m in orders from this assistance. Finally, the programme has been successfully leveraging our Strategic Partnership Grants to improve food security in the region.

To date, this technology transfer programme has been critical to improving storage, production and market access for nearly 50,000 farmers in Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi.

BusinessWeek: Can you highlight the recent activities that USAID Southern Africa Trade Hub has engaged in?

O’Loughlin: Since August 2014, textile and apparel companies supported by the Trade Hub reported over $34 million in new US export orders signed as a result of connections made at the Trade Hub-supported trade shows with US buyers JC Penney, Walmart and others.

USAID’s Southern Africa Trade Hub has also facilitated a total of $3.9m in local investments in packaging, grain grading and storage, certified seed production, laboratory development and warehouse receipts.

USAID’s Southern Africa Trade Hub has also launched new websites for AGOA, SADCSTAN and the SADC Seed Centre.

The latter website supports the Harmonised Seed Release system, which allows seeds already released in any two SADC member states to be released into any SADC member state.

This reduces the time and cost of releasing seeds into the region.

It also increases investment in the regional seed sector and makes higher-yielding seeds available to farmers.

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