Lusaka - Border restrictions and other virus control measures directed at COVID-19 have given rise to non-tariff barriers (NTBs) that are hindering trade in the 21-member Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the bloc says.
The emergence of the novel coronavirus has meant that since March this year, countries have upped restrictions on the movements of people and goods.
Among the most common NTBs have been quotas, embargoes, sanctions, and levies associated with countries’ efforts to protect citizens from COVID-19 as well as safeguard their own economies in a period of low production and depressed revenues.
Dr Chris Onyango, the COMESA director of trade, told the recent fifth meeting of the Trade and Trade Facilitation Sub-Committee that the rise in NTBs was inimical to the anticipated launch of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in January 2021.
“Despite the significant milestones in dealing with NTB issues, including rules, regulations, working procedures, and online NTBs monitoring systems, they have remained a major hindrance to growth and expansion of intra-COMESA trade,” Dr Onyango said.
Though largely legitimate, the controls on movements of people and goods needed to be harmonised and structured in a manner that facilitated trade and economic development, he added.
“Member States should simply avoid introducing NTBs to allow trade to thrive for in the end, no single party benefits from restraining trade. I can attest to you delegates that even in the imposing countries in aggregate, competitiveness in production and market prices are comprised, and consumer welfare undermined by constraining choices, tastes, and preferences,” Dr Onyango emphasised.
The meeting attracted government delegates, experts and interest groups from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eswatini, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles, Somalia, Rwanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The sub-committee is mandated to - among other things - promote trade and rules of origin.
Also discussed by the sub-committee at its last meeting were regional integration, economic and trade performance, implementation of trade facilitation projects and updates on negotiations related to the AfCFTA.