It will now be easier and faster for the business community in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) to report trade barriers within the tripartite regional economic bloc, thanks to a new short messaging service (SMS) system. According to experts, the innovation that was launched last week will help improve regional trade.
Souef Kamalidini, the Director General of Customs of the Union of Comoros, said the SMS tool will supplement the current web-based online system for reporting, monitoring and elimination of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) used by COMESA, the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). A similar system is used by the Northern Corridor countries to report NTBs.
The tripartite online reporting system is a real-time mechanism for reporting, processing, monitoring and resolving NTBs.
The SMS system that is being rolled out by COMESA member states is part of capacity building and empowerment to manage NTBs and fast-track their removal. According to Kamalidini, the new tool will especially help the informal sector and small-scale traders who do not have access to the Internet to report NTBs in real time.
“With the new technology, each member state is able to install and operate the system using a ‘central’ number at the national level where stakeholders can send messages on trade obstacles. This way, they (traders) will not incur any roaming charges to send an SMS,” he explained.
Alphose Kwizera, the assistant executive director at the Rwanda Association of Manufacturers (RAM), said the tool is instrumental and will help assist the region to understand and address the frequency and category of NTBs that are encountered by economic operators in the tripartite region.
“This innovation is a timely boost in addressing the challenges faced by the regional business community, including NTBs like road blocks, delays in processing export/import documentations and permits, among others, that are still common in some of the member states across the COMESA region.
Alice Uwimbabazi, a Kigali-based importer, said the new tool is a significant boost to efforts geared at enhancing trade in the bloc and help reduce the cost of doing business.
COMESA is the largest regional economic organisation in Africa, with 19 member states and a population of about 390 million.
How it works
The new platform allows traders who encounter NTBs to send an SMS to the central number which in turn relays messages to identified focal points numbers and the current online NTBs reporting system.