Non-Tariff Barriers (NTB) in the ESA Region



Last update: 9th September 2020

Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) refer to restrictions that result from prohibitions, conditions, or specific market requirements that make importation or exportation of products difficult and costly. Still, these restrictions include the unjustified and improper application of Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs), such as sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and other technical barriers to Trade (TBT).

Even though trade internationally and across the ESA region has primarily been liberalised in recent times, a plethora of NTBs still mostly exists. The WCO ESA RPSG aims to keep its members up to date with all NTBs currently inhibiting the free flow of goods across the region.

Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs)

Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) refer to a wide range of restrictive regulations and procedures, imposed by government authorities, that make importation or exportation of products difficult and costly.

NTBs comprise policies of economic protectionism against foreign trade, such as prohibitions, quotas, licenses or discriminatory taxes. Restrictive Customs procedures can also be NTBs. NTBs can also include the unjustified and improper application of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and other TBTs.

However, not all government regulations or procedures that are costly for a trader can be considered NTBs. Rules and procedures can be justified by the protection of human, animal or plant health, the environment, or other significant public policy objectives. Still, such measures should be proportionate and restrict trade as little as possible. Furthermore, they should not discriminate against foreign companies or products.

According to Trade Barriers, NTBs to trade can arise from:

  • Import bans
  • General or product-specific quotas
  • Complex/discriminatory Rules of Origin
  • Unjustified quality requirements imposed by the importing country
  • Unjustified sanitary and phytosanitary conditions
  • Unjustified packaging, labelling, and product requirements
  • Determination of eligibility of an exporting country by the importing country
  • Determination of eligibility of an exporting establishment (firm, company) by the importing country
  • Excessive document requirements
  • Import licenses and their restrictive application
  • State subsidies
  • Export subsidies
  • Inadequate product classification or Customs valuation
  • Seasonal import regimes
  • Restrictive Customs procedures

Non-Tariff Measures:

NTMs are policy measures other than tariffs that can potentially have an economic effect on international trade in goods. They are increasingly shaping business, influencing who trades what and how much. For exporters, importers and policymakers, NTMs represent a significant challenge. Though many NTMs aim primarily at protecting public health or the environment, they also substantially affect trade through information, compliance and procedural costs.

Understanding the uses and implications of NTMs is essential for the formulation of effective development strategies to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. The NTM Hub serves as a gateway to that end, providing information on classification, data, research and analysis and policy support. Increasing transparency and understanding of NTMs can build the capacity of policymakers, trade negotiators, and researchers to strike the delicate balance between the reduction of trade costs and the preservation of public objectives (NTM Hub).

Best Practices Globally

UNCTAD’s Work on NTMs

Understanding the uses and implications of NTMs is essential for the formulation and implementation of effective development strategies to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. To this end, UNCTAD identified two avenues to reduce NTM-related trade costs without compromising on public health and environmental protection:

  1. Increase transparency and understanding of NTMs: Comprehensive and comparable information about NTMs is scarce and difficult to obtain. Information costs are high for policymakers and the private sector. There is a great need to develop a better understanding and transparency of NTMs. UNCTAD, as part of the Multi-Agency Support Team (MAST) Group, led the work to draw up the International Classification of Non-Tariff Measures. Based on the MAST classification, UNCTAD has been collecting data on NTMs since 2012. Today, the data covers over 100 countries, containing more than 65,000 measures.

This data is publicly available under the section Data Dissemination of the NTM Hub.

  1. Promote regulatory frameworks and collaboration: The divergence of NTMs across countries causes trade to become costlier. These NTMs pose significant challenges to trading companies, which need to comply with the country-specific product and process requirements. Yet, these regulations are necessary to meet legitimate public policy objectives. Resultant from this situation is the calls for smart policies that promote regulatory convergence, rather than elimination, to meet public policy objectives without restricting economic development. Indeed, UNCTAD research shows that regulatory convergence can considerably reduce trade costs related to technical NTMs. Because of these reasons, UNCTAD supports regulatory co-operation between countries and acceptable regulatory practices by the Member States through its policy work (NTM Hub).

Progress in the ESA Region

The Mechanism for Reporting, Monitoring and Eliminating Non-Tariff Barriers

The following Regional Economic Communities (RECs) are integrating the economies of their member states into a single enlarged market through the grand Tripartite Free Trade Area (FTA):

  • Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)
  • East African Community (EAC)
  • Southern African Development Community (SADC)

Identification, removal and monitoring of NTBs to trade by the Member States in the Tripartite Community are one of the priority areas for policy harmonisation and coordination under the Tripartite framework. With tariff liberalisation primarily achieved, the challenge remains to eliminate NTBs and other barriers to trade that contribute to the high cost of doing business across the region, thereby inhibiting intra-/inter-regional trade.

To this end, COMESA, EAC and SADC are implementing a NTBs reporting, monitoring, and eliminating mechanism which incorporates concrete timelines for the removal of NTBs. All three RECs have established NTB monitoring mechanisms to address NTBs.

The online NTBs reporting, monitoring and eliminating mechanism, developed for the REC Tripartite, is available on this website. The web-based NTBs mechanism will enhance transparency and easy follow-up of reported and identified NTBs and NTMs.

How the Mechanism Works [Insert PDF]

The mechanism enables stakeholders to report and monitor the resolution of barriers encountered as they conduct their business in the COMESA, EAC and SADC regions. It enhances transparency and easy follow-up of written and identified NTBs and NTMs. This web-based NTBs reporting, monitoring and eliminating mechanism are accessible to economic operators, government functionaries, academic researchers and other interested parties.

Total Statistics (25 August 2020)

  • 723 complaints registered
  • 655 complaints resolved (91%)
  • 68 complaints unresolved

Note the measurements per Trade Barriers (

How the Mechanism Works

How to Report Trade Barriers

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)’s Non-Tariff Barriers online reporting, monitoring and eliminating mechanism is a facility developed to enhance trade through removal of non-tariff barriers to trade (NTBs).

By clicking on, you can report any obstacle encountered when trading goods across intra-African borders, for example excessive delays, ad hoc fees at the border, cumbersome document requirements, restrictive product standards and regulations etc.

The online mechanism is open to all African business sectors:

Small, medium and large companies, informal traders, women and youth business operators.

  • STEP 1 Go to and choose your language.
  • STEP 2 Click on Login/Register • Register • fill your details and submit.
  • STEP 3 In your Emails: Receive a confirmation email • click on the activation link in that email!
  • STEP 4 Go back to • Login/Register • enter your username/email and password • Login.
  • STEP 5 Click on “Report an NTB online”• fill the form and provide as much detail as possible • Submit your complaint!

After you report a non-tariff barrier, the concerned government authorities will follow-up to resolve your problem. NTBs Coordination Units in the AfCFTA Secretariat and NTB Units in your Regional Economic Community (REC), as well as NTB National Focal Points (NFPs) in your countries will support the process.

Report trade barriers at