NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 23 – The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, (COMESA) region is losing close to Sh3 trillion annually due to non-tariff barriers.
Director, Trade and Customs and Monetary Affairs at COMESA Francis Mangeni says trade in the region stands at Sh1 trillion despite having a potential of Sh4.2 trillion annually or even more.
Some of the non-tariff barriers in the region include lengthy customs procedures and administrative requirements, road blocks, technical standards, government participation in trade, lack of physical infrastructure among others.
“COMESA has a potential trade of $42billion annually but at the moment what we are trading is even shamefully low. There is need for country member states to look into these issues, because sometimes we deal with one, then there arises other three non tariff barriers,” Mangeni said during a COMESA forum to address the matter.
A non tariff barrier is a form of restrictive trade measure where barriers to trade are set up and take a form other than a tariff. Non-tariff barriers include quotas, levies, embargoes, sanctions and other restrictions, and are frequently used by large and developed economies.
In June this year, the COMESA Secretariat working closely with member states said it had managed to eliminate 168 non-tariff barriers out of 172 which were reported since 2008.
The most recent barrier to be resolved was between Swaziland and Zimbabwe where the latter had expressed doubts on the originating status of fridges and deep freezers manufactured in Swaziland from being sold in Zimbabwe.
Other countries whose bilateral trade that have also been largely affected by the trade barriers include Kenya, Zambia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Egypt and Rwanda.
Kenya’s Industry, Trade and Co-operatives Principal Secretary Dr Chris Kiptoo says there despite the progress being made and announced by the secretariat, a lot of investors doing cross-trade still experience challenges hence the need for sensitization of the border officials.
Despite the low intra trade within ourselves, 90 percent of it is with other countries outside COMESA.
“The non-tariff barriers have contributed largely to the low level of intra regional trade which is estimated at 7 percent. In East Africa it is between 15 to 18 percent and in Africa general it is 10 percent. This is quite low compared to Europe and other regions outside the continent,” Kiptoo said.
Though COMESA secretariat officials do not name the culprits, arguably, every member country uses a range of non-tariff barriers to regulate goods entering or transiting its territory for reasons like health, environment and security.
“Unless we change this we will keep taking wealth to other countries and losing job opportunities yet we have what it takes to grow the region,” Kiptoo added.