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The Covid-19 virus may stalk countries for longer periods than envisaged. This has been the realisation by most countries as they ease lockdown measures against the backdrop of debilitating effects on economies caused by Covid-19 containment measures.
The delicate balance exercised by governments to ensure the health and safety of their countries through lockdowns and the task to ensure buoyant economies during the pandemic has been daunting if not impossible as evidenced by most economies that have crumbled globally.
The World Bank has estimated that in Sub Sahara Africa 26 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty by end of 2020.
Africa with its numerous borders, movement of goods across borders has been very restricted with costs to move the essential goods and food stuffs skyrocketing despite reduced rates of import duties.
In East Africa the cost of moving cargo between Mombasa and Kampala went up by 50 percent, while the time to move the cargo doubled as drivers were restricted to deliver the cargo at the final destination amid coronavirus concerns.
The SADC region had somewhat similar stories of long delays resulting in astronomic demurrage costs on the average cargo moved across borders.
These problems have been there prior to the onset of the coronavirus; the pandemic has worsened the situation. This has brought under spotlight the plight of landlocked countries like Zimbabwe and Zambia to mention a few.
The small island developing states have experienced the effects of restricted trade routes as well.
These restricted trade corridors, restricted supplies chains compounded by countries’ lockdowns have disrupted most large businesses with effects that have cascaded further down to the micro small and medium enterprises.
The nature of MSMEs business models has made them vulnerable to the coronavirus crisis as most of them are facing closures, while some moot to change the business lines altogether. Closure of MSMEs comes with the loss of jobs that provide livelihoods to almost 70 percent of population in most African countries.
As countries move out of the lockdown to resuscitate the economies, it becomes important to draw lessons from the effects of the pandemic so as to build resilient and agile entities that can easily respond to situations as dictated by the economic environment.
The IMF recommends a cautious approach as countries ease out of lockdown measures. The IMF concern has been around asymmetry, affordability and synchronicity. Policy success will largely be determined by the balance of the mentioned factors as determined by the fiscal space. However, the health and people’s lives should be paramount.
The International Trade Centre through surveys and other research identifies resilience, agility, digitisation and sustainability as approaches that should be considered to build entities that may weather unforeseen disasters like the coronavirus pandemic.
Trade governess will help to shape the ecosystem that will not only sustain, but will be inclusive of all participants in the supply chain.
This should be achieved through wide multi-stakeholders’ consultations including chambers of commerce that should spearhead collaboration and mentoring of MSMEs.
Research demands a paradigm shift in order for businesses to withstand future shocks.
The design of an ecosystem should be guided by the benefits of linkages created between resilient businesses. International Trade Centre in their Competiveness Outlook advises that the ability of the business to survive future shocks will depend on its constituent parts and connections between them.
The pandemic forced most governments to revise customs legislation on medical goods and requisites in order to expedite movement of the medicaments cargo and be able to land at competitive prices.
Zimbabwe is among the first countries to heed the plea with the resultant Statutory Instrument 88 of 2020. However more still needs to be done to optimise trade facilitation.
Block chain technology will need to be adopted quickly to mitigate the mistrust among countries with regards to the health of personnel, especially truck drivers plying trade routes. This development has given birth to what is now called Trade Safe Zone in East Africa.
In the EAC region the movement of truck drivers is being facilitated through health certificates that are block chain generated.
The application that is being used has been designed according to standards agreed by the EAC region.
With adequate research, the SADC and COMESA region may employ the same means to ensure health and safety within the trade corridors.
Furthermore the creation of Trade Safe Zones within the SADC and COMESA region will be a welcome development to informal cross border trade that has remained largely inactive because of closed borders due to Covid-19.
Women make more than 70 percent of Informal Cross Border Trade. It becomes urgent to assist this sector to get back into business.
As countries embark on rebuilding economies, it will be crucial to build entities that will withstand a crisis of the coronavirus magnitude in the future.
Interconnected resilient and agile businesses will survive future shocks. On the eve of the Africa Continent Free Trade Area, adapting to the mentioned strategies will be prudent for most businesses to rise from the ashes created by the pandemic.
Sitshengisiwe Ndlovu president of OWITZIMBABWE: MBA/UNCTAD: Trade and Gender Linkages/ IAC Dip/Cert: Trade in Services and SDGs: Robert Schuman Centre of Advanced Studies/IDEPCert: Making the African Continental Free Trade Agreement Work. She writes in her personal capacity. For more on trade matters visit her Blog on website: owitzimbabwe.org