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African customs officials approve draft guidelines to fast-track launch of continental free trade area

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Customs officials from around Africa have supported the adoption of continental guidelines to facilitate the free flow of cross-border trade amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN Economic Commission for Africa said on Saturday.

The decision was taken ahead of the start of trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on 1 January, 2021.

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The Directors General of Customs who met virtually during a meeting organized by the African Union Commission (AUC), said the solutions to the cross-border trading challenges must be sought following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The meeting observed that by magnifying Africa’s cross-border inefficiencies, the coronavirus pandemic presented an opportunity to reinvigorate efforts at overcoming long-standing trade facilitation challenges. Presenting the guidelines, Stephen Karingi, ECA’s Director of Regional Integration and Trade, said they were designed to support cross-REC harmonization of COVID-19 guidelines and advance coordination and implementation of common guidelines.

He said they would be presented to all relevant AU sub-committees covering customs, transport and infrastructure, among others, for consideration towards their eventual adoption.

“The aim is to have the continental guidelines in place early next year to reinforce start of trading under the AfCFTA,” he said.

The guidelines cover a number of new sub-sections to respond to specific gaps in existing rules, including the regulation of small-scale cross-border trade and cross-border trade by fishermen, gender considerations, and treatment of essential workers, including transport and humanitarian workers.

In his own remarks, AUC’s Acting Director for Trade and Industry, Hussein Hassan, said the Commission partnered with the ECA and the African Union Development Agency – New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA-NEPAD) to develop the continental guidelines on trade and transport facilitation for the movement of persons, goods and services during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Once in force, the continental guidelines are expected to ensure a harmonized approach to support smooth and safe trade amid the pandemic, including transit trade between RECs,” said Hassan.

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The Secretary General of the World Customs Organization, Kunio Mikuriya, said COVID-19 had a significant adverse influence on borders and customs operations but that the WCO acted quickly to address these challenges and provided customs administrations with guidance on how to safeguard global supply chains. (PANA/NAN)

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