Work Plan Progress 2021

JacobAEO, Education and awareness: WCO Instruments and Tools, Measurements in the ESA Region, Newsletters, Non-Tariff Barriers (NTB) in the ESA Region, Projects, Research in the Region, SMART borders

1. Background, formation and over-arching objective

The WCO East and Southern Africa (ESA) Region consists of 24 Member Countries; Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The body representing the private sector in the region is the ESA-RPSG.

The ESA-RPSG was formed to verify the implementation, monitoring, and assistance of various instruments in the WCO Instruments and Tools, making trade easier without comprising or imposing a higher risk profile. This approach will also allow the private sector to articulate its challenges in regional integration and possible solutions for addressing the known obstacles. We need to manage them effectively to create a safe, fair and compliant environment for all. Private sector consultation takes place via online webinars. To encourage continuity in our discussions, the RPSG aims to host at least four webinars throughout the year.

The WCO-ESA-RPSG will also inform the World Customs Organization Private Sector Consultative Group (WCO-PSCG) regarding Customs issues in the ESA region. Furthermore, it will monitor the progress in the ESA region and, where appropriate, adopt the practical implementation of various WCO toolkits and instruments. These will enable it to assess any progress made by measuring cross border synchronisation.

The main aim is to work with Customs Administrations in the furtherance of the SAFE Framework of Standards to secure and facilitate global trade in the region and contribute to building a fair, safe, secure environment for growth, thereby improving the living standards of all citizens in the region.

The RPSG has identified several issues to focus on for 2021. These include a need to expand the reach of the reports, webinars and newsletters being delivered. Figure 1 provides a summary of the focus areas.

Figure 1 – Summarised work plan for 2021

2. Objectives for 2021

The RPSG focuses on six primary objectives, which are also well-articulated on our website (

The six focus areas of the WCO-ESA-RPSG are:

  • SMART Borders
  • AEO
  • Education and awareness
  • Research in the region
  • Measurements; and
  • Non-tariff barriers.

These focus areas and related projects will continue to run throughout the year; however, the main focus will be on (1) AEOs, the (2) WTO-TFA and linkage to the AfCFTA; and (3) increase the uptake of digitalisation. Each of these focus areas has been identified as a high priority item for 2021 by stakeholders.

a. Authorised Economic Operator

According to the AEO Compendium and respective national sources, there are currently:

  • Five operational AEO programmes and four AEO programmes under development,
  • Five operational Customs Compliance programmes and one Customs Compliance programme under development

in the ESA region, with an ever-growing total of 728 operators. Considering the high cost of moving goods across borders in Africa, the AEO programmes are significant for the region, reducing the cost and time involved in moving goods across borders. For these reasons, AEO will be a focus area for the RPSG in 2021.

Our goal:

  1. Create awareness and encourage the private sector to participate in this programme.
  2. Deliver a report or document on best practices.
  3. Deliver an article on the advantages of AEO, including listing some of the lessons learned in the region. All linked to the best practices report.
  4. Host a webinar on AEO.
  5. Do a summary of the Global AEO Congress to be hosted in February 2021.

b. World Trade Organization – Trade Facilitation Agreement & African Free Trade Area Agreement

In 2013 negotiations around the WTO’s trade facilitation agreement (TFA) concluded. The TFA entered into force in February 2017, following the ratification thereof by two-thirds of WTO member states. Once ratified, the TFA is a multilateral agreement aimed at easing the international movement of goods. The TFA aims to cut red tape at borders for more straightforward trade, which includes: (1) release and clearance of goods, (2) availability of information on rules and procedures, (3) automation and e-services, (4) disciplines for fees and penalties, (5) harmonised processes and standards, (6) consultations and appeals, and (7) assistance for implementation. As of July 2019, 16 of the 24 ESA member countries have ratified the TFA.

The AfCFTA and TFA have the potential to complement each other. Implementing the AfCFTA and the TFA could allow for a harmonised approach across the African continent, a notorious barrier to trade in the region. Under the AfCFTA and the TFA, African countries should aim to harmonise and simplify border clearance procedures, single windows, one-stop border posts, and electronic systems. These advancements link the TFA and AfCFTA with each other and link to the goal of encouraging digitalisation and the SMART Borders project.

Our goals:

  1. Host a webinar on leveraging the WTO-TFA and AfCFTA.
  2. Research the ratification and uptake of both the WTO-TFA and AfCFTA in the ESA region.
  3. Research the harmonisation of different programmes, such as single-window systems and other customs procedures.

c. Digitalisation

Digitalisation has in recent years come to the forefront of discussions around easing the international movement of cargo, and even more during the pandemic as contact between people needed to be drastically reduced at a rapid pace. The pandemic highlighted the need for more digitalised border processes. Moreover, the pandemic highlighted the lack of infrastructure to support the movement towards digitalised processes.

Adopting digital Customs and trade-related processes throughout the ESA region has been lethargic, highlighting the need to encourage digital uptake. However, many benefits of digitisation can be realised by following a clear set of recommendations or guidelines.

Advancements include initiatives such as electronic single window systems, automated warehouse management, GPS tracking, among others. By advocating for these initiatives and providing suggestions and guidance, the private sector can play a vital role in persuading the government to implement these technologies. In many instances, throughout the developing world, technology is not employed simply due to a lack of knowledge and understanding. Many success stories exist in our region, notably with the adoption of mobile banking in Kenya and other parts of East Africa.

Our goals:

  1. Host a webinar digitalisation and trade.
  2. Do case studies on how technology has been effectively employed.
  3. Assess the reach and presence of technology in the ESA region.
  4. Research different ways technology can be effectively employed in Africa.

3. Work plan focus for 2021

There are three main areas of focus for 2021 in terms of deliverables: newsletters, webinars and research (articles and reports). The newsletters will continue to build on the work that has already been done. These newsletters will be supported by regional situation reports that have brought updates on the region’s response to the virus outbreak. The aim will be to continue to bring out newsletters once each quarter and situation reports every other month (thus, four newsletters and six situation reports for the year).

In addition to the continued newsletters and situation reports, articles and reports will be released once a month (where possible, and where possible, even perhaps two per month) with possible topics listed below. Although many of these topics relate to the four main issues identified by the team, they run on their timeline to allow for more outputs and more freedom regarding subject matters. A core motivation is to increase the awareness of the topics covered by the programme.

Topics for articles and reports:

  • What is an AEO
  • AEO best practices
  • Advantages and issues of AEOs
  • AEO harmonisation/standardisation
  • Research on WTO and AfCFTA ratification and uptake
  • Advantages of the AfCFTA
  • Leveraging the WTO and AfCFTA
  • Case studies on digitalisation in Africa
  • Technology, trade and customs
  • Employing digitalisation in Africa
  • An assessment of technology in the ESA region (using the NRI)
  • Tax and e-commerce and digital trade
  • Single Window Systems and harmonisation in ESA
  • Non-tariff barriers in the ESA region
  • The non-tariff barriers reporting system
  • Solutions to Non-tariff barriers

Finally, four topics have been identified for webinar discussions. Each of these four topics relates to issues, concerns or opportunities identified by the group. The programme will reach out and engage with subject experts in the region for each topic discussed.

Table 1 Work plan for 2021

a. Expand reach

An essential goal of the RPSG is to expand its reach and increase the number of people that the research done by the group reaches. Some of the ways this can be done are:

  • Rope in border communities/ air
  • Social media
  • Linkages with other REC bodies

b. Publication/research

Increasing the research being done and the documents (reports/articles/webinars) will speak to one of the six projects of the group, as well as expanding the reach of the research being done:

  • Webinars
    • AEO
    • Digitalisation
    • WTO-TFA and AfCFTA
    • NTBs
  • Newsletters
  • Situation reports
  • Additional reports/articles related to the three main focus areas as well as

4. Measurements or KPIs

Below is a table of key performance indicators (KPIs). These will allow the group to monitor progress continuously and whether they are reached within the planned time.

Table 2 KPIs for the work plan for 2021