The Member States of the three Regional Economic Organisations of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) launched the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area on 12th June 2011.  The Tripartite Free Trade Area aims to reduce tariffs imposed on goods originating in the region and traded in the region.

However, in addition to tariff barriers, the region’s producers and traders also face a number of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs).  An integral part of the Tripartite Free Trade Area, therefore, is the design and implementation of a programme aimed reducing Non-Tariff Barriers to trade.

Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) refer to non-tariff related trade restrictions resulting from prohibitions, conditions or specific requirements that make importation and exportation of goods difficult or expensive.  The elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers was identified as a priority at the First Tripartite Summit which took place in October, 2008.

Legal instruments of the three Regional Economic Communities namely; Articles 49 and 50 of the COMESA Treaty, Articles 75(5) of the East African Community Treaty and Article 6 of the SADC Protocol on Trade, provide for the elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers to trade and further prohibit the introduction of new ones.  Article 10(1) of the Tripartite Agreement calls on Tripartite member States to eliminate all existing Non-Tariff Barriers to trade with other member States and not impose any new ones.

COMESA, EAC and SADC have, in the past, developed different mechanisms to identify report and monitor elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers and resolve disputes. These mechanisms have, to a great extent, identified all the common NTBs encountered in the region and the frequency at which they occur and has attempted to facilitate resolution of the same through resolution at the Council of Ministers level and other consultative processes.  The existing mechanisms that are in place were the starting points for the design of the on-line Tripartite NTB Monitoring, Removal and Reporting Mechanism, as well as the process for elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers to trade.

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Non-Tariff Barriers


NTB reporting, Monitoring and Elimination Mechanism

TMSA has supported the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite to develop a web-based NTB reporting, monitoring and elimination mechanism. This dynamic online system provides a systematic and transparent process for identification and elimination of barriers to trade in the tripartite region.

The main NTBs currently restricting trade in the region have been identified as:

  • Customs documentation and administrative procedures – these include non-standardised systems for imports declaration and payment of applicable duty rates; non-acceptance of certificates and trade documentation; incorrect tariff classification; limited and uncoordinated customs working hours; different interpretation of the Rules of Origin and non-acceptance of certificates of origin; application of discriminatory taxes and other charges on imports originating from member States; and cumbersome procedures for verifying containerised imports.
  • Immigration procedures – including non-standardised visa fees; and cumbersome and duplicated immigration procedures.
  • Quality inspection procedures – delays in inspection of commercial vehicles; cumbersome and costly quality inspection procedures; unnecessary quality inspections (including of products certified by internationally accredited laboratories); non-standardised quality inspection and testing procedures; and varying procedures for issuing certification marks.
  • Transiting procedures – Non-harmonised transport policies, laws, regulations and standards including road user charges, third party (cross border) motor insurance schemes, vehicle overland controls systems, vehicle dimensions and standards, cross border road permits and prohibitive transit charges.
  • Road blocks – stopping of commercial vehicles at various inter-country road blocks even where there is no proof that goods being transported are of a suspicious nature, such as smuggled goods or drugs.

The system enables stakeholders to report these and other NTBs and to monitor their resolution.  It is supported by NTBs structures whose main function is to process and facilitate resolution of the reported barriers. The NTB structure consists of public and private sector focal points as well as National Monitoring Committees (NMCs).

NMCs comprise all government ministries and departments, private sector organisations, trade associations and major exporters and importers who are appointed to facilitate resolution of reported barriers against their countries as well as barriers imposed against their businesses.

By August 2011, Tripartite Countries had resolved 70,7% of NTBs.  All Tripartite Member countries, furthermore, have established NTB focal points while 16 have established NMCs or have designated existing national structures in this regard . NMC’s in four countries, furthermore, have received orientation and training on the NTB online system.

TMSA is the current administrator of the online system as well as the coordinator of the Tripartite NTBs elimination programme.

Elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers to Trade

Early Closure of TMSA Programme: The Secretary of State of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) has decided to terminate its financial contribution to TradeMark Southern Africa (TMSA), as announced on 4 December 2013. As DFID is the sole financier of the TMSA programme of support to the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite, TMSA will officially be closed from 17 March 2014 instead of 31 October 2014. For more information about the TMSA closure, and for a summary of some of the more notable successes of the Tripartite achieved with TMSA support, please click here