The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum’s standing committee on trade, industry, finance and investment has called for the harmonisation of cross-border trade systems to reduce “trade costs and time spent at borders”.
This echoed calls that were made by the governments of South Africa and Zimbabwe earlier in the year after thousands of people and vehicles were stuck at the Beitbridge border post for days following the Christmas and New Year holidays.
At the time, the delays resulted in more than 100 people reportedly testing positive for Covid-19.
The standing committee, chaired by Zimbabwe Member of Parliament, Anele Ndebele, met virtually on Sunday under the theme: “Enhancing regional economic integration through infrastructure development: A case of one-stop border post”.
Discussions centered on ways in which regional economic integration, through infrastructure development - with a special focus on one-stop border posts, could be enhanced.
Consensus was reached that a harmonisation of cross-border trade systems would achieve regional economic integration and help reduce the costs and time spent at borders.
“The model of the one-stop border post, birthed around the year 2000, is one of the modern approaches to improving border operations and trade infrastructure. This trade facilitation tool is envisaged to promote a coordinated and integrated approach to facilitating trade in goods and services, facilitating the movement of people and improving security,” said Ndebele.
In January, South Africa’s portfolio committee on home affairs visited the Beitbridge border post and identified the implementation of a one-stop border post and the roll-out of the Border Management Authority (BMA) as being key to resolving the challenges at all land borders.
At the time, the committee said “this [the implementation of a one-stop border post] will ensure the seamless movement of people in and out of the country”.
As far back as February last year, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced plans to implement one-stop border posts, particularly with Zimbabwe, due to the high number of people and goods crossing between the two countries. However, the delays in the establishment of the BMA have been blamed for the lack of any progress.
The highly interactive SADC forum saw committee members also receive submissions from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the Southern African Cross Border Traders Association.
While discussions were described as fruitful, they only formed part of preparations for the 49th Plenary Assembly Session to be hosted by the parliament of Botswana in June this year, where SADC committees will each table their reports and more concrete resolutions would be reached and implemented.
Some of the challenges highlighted by Comesa included “variances in applicable duty rates that significantly differ from one country to the other, lack of uniformity in penalties and fines, and the continuous lockdown on all Zimbabwean borders”.
The organisation said these challenges have serious implications on the livelihoods of cross-border traders especially among smaller traders who are agents of poverty alleviation.
“The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have clearly demonstrated that even if significant progress on digital transformation and the e-commerce agenda is to be achieved, goods still need to physically cross borders and undergo all border procedures.”
“As such, the acceleration of the one-stop border post in the southern African region, and Africa at large, cannot be overstated,” said Ndebele, who added that “the need for infrastructure development with regard to trade in the SADC region is further augmented following the commencement of trade under the African Continental Free Trade Area in January 2021.”
Insurgency worries over natural resources
Zimbabwe began to head up the SADC trade committee when Ndebele was elected unopposed in July last year. His term runs for two years.
A call was also made for SADC countries to pay special attention to the role played by natural resources in insurgency and regional conflicts – which have impacted negatively on cross border trade and regional integration.
As a result, the committee also pledged its support to SADC’s decision to send experts to Mozambique to assess the situation on the ground.
“I believe it is time we critically assess the issue of natural resources as they are some of the major causes of conflict in our region. As a region we must protect and advance human rights, we cannot stand as spectators and watch when young women and children in Mozambique are being abducted and their human rights stripped,” said Dennis Namachekecha Phiri, a member of the committee from Malawi.
The committee agreed that insurgency, such as the current situation in the northern province of Mozambique, was likely to have a negative impact on trade as the insurgents take full control of resource-rich regions to block access and close trade routes so that resources cannot reach their original destination as outlined in the established sale contracts.
“A complex crisis such as insurgency will undeniably result in economic and financial risk for the country with rising inflation and a fall in stock exchange figures, with investors losing confidence in the ability of the country to keep its borders secure,” said SADC parliamentary forum secretary-general Boemo Sekgoma.
The statutory meetings were set to continue on Monday with the standing committee on the food, agriculture and natural resources, chaired by the Democratic Republic of Congo lawmaker, Leon Tumba, scheduled to discuss the role of the SADC parliament in harnessing domestic tourism in pandemic times, such as Covid-19.