Comesa inches closer to common tariff


Ndamu Sandu

THE Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), a 20-nation economic grouping, meets in Lusaka, Zambia next week for the adoption of a uniform import and export t

ariff structure, it has been learnt.


Also known as the common external tariff structure (CET), attendees will debate a toll regime amenable to trade promotion and growth among member countries across Africa, including Zimbabwe.


Trade analysts with knowledge of the CET plan, which will supersede current continental fee or levy structures, said it was likely to be launched at next year’s Comesa summit, where the idea of a Customs Union (CU) would also be fully realised. CET is a component of the CU.


Advocates of the CET blueprint are arguing for zero-rating of duty chargeable on goods and materials emanating from the region.


They also want uniform tariff assistance and possible protection under the CET mechanism for goods imported from third party countries.


Businessdigest could not ascertain the composition of Zimbabwe’s delegation to the meeting, although it is thought that officials from Samuel Mumbengegwi’s industry department and officials from the Competition and Tariff Commission will attend since Harare has inputted into the proposals to be tabled at the three-day Lusaka meeting. The meeting runs from Monday.


Zimbabwe, for instance, proposed zero-rating on imported capital goods, 5% for raw materials and 15% on intermediate or semi-processed goods while 40% would be applicable for finished goods.


Other member countries of Comesa are Angola, Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda and Zambia.


Regional economic powerhouse South Africa is not part of the trade bloc. Pretoria is instead a member of the leaner Southern African Customs Union.


In addition to its Comesa and Sadc membership, Zimbabwe is also part of the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) group, which seeks to foster economic partnership with other global groups such as the European Union. ESA was formed in February.


Much as the CET measures were necessitated by continued haggles on “precise tariffs applicable to various goods and defined goods categories or types”, it was also born on the premise of harmonising trade in Africa.


It had been noted, for instance, that disparities in levels of duty payable in individual countries was a contentious issue and countries such as Egypt, Mauritius and Zimbabwe had very high levies of up to 100%, as compared to Kenya and Uganda who were charging 25%.


Currently, member states are bound by a loose arrangement known as the Free Trade Area (FTA), which espouses much freer cross-border exchange practices which cannot enforce uniform protocols. FTA terms are not binding and member countries are not fully accountable in cases of unfair treatment.


At the last major Comesa meeting attended by heads of state including President Robert Mugabe, the parties agreed that member states would carry out more extensive national stakeholder meetings on the most appropriate tariff structure – set to form the bedrock of further negotiations at regional level.


It was against this background that the Comesa secretariat went into top gear, carrying out extensive national consultations, which helped achieved common tariff nomenclature and uniformity in the description of traded goods.


The merger concept, encompassing two or more customs territories agreeing to a CET, policies and procedures will help in proper management or handling of imported goods from outside the CU.


The CU will also provide predictable and regionally applied minimal customs clearance formalities.


Conservative figures of Comesa intra-trade indicate that last year Zimbabwe imported goods worth US$67,38 million and in turn exported goods worth US$308,98 million.

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