A newly designed Short Messaging Service for reporting trade barriers within the tripartite regional economic blocs has been launched.
The SMS will supplement the current web based online system for reporting, monitoring and elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) used by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (Sadc).
The Tripartite online reporting system is a real-time, mechanism for reporting, processing, monitoring and resolving NTBs and is available on www.tradebarriers.org. It was operationalised in November 2010.
The SMS tool was first launched in 2013 in Zambia to facilitate a diverse spectrum of economic operators, especially the informal and small scale traders who may not have access to the internet.
“At the time the design of the SMS reporting too, there was a central number to which the economic operators in different countries could send the SMS messages to report the trade obstacles that they could have encountered,” Mr Tasara Muzorori, senior trade officer in Comesa said.
This was expensive for the economic operators as it involved incurring roaming charges. “It was also a challenge to publicise that central number to the relevant players in each of the countries as the foreign numbers did not identify with local users,” Mr Muzorori said.
“Further, the system was faced with sustainability challenges as it was operated outside the National NTBs structures thereby requiring continued donor support to cater for administration costs.”
This led to the re-design of the SMS system whereby each country installs and operates the toll using a central National number at a national level to which messages on trade obstacles can be sent thus eliminating roaming charges.
The re-designing of the SMS reporting tool was achieved through support from the African Development Bank funded Tripartite Capacity Building programme.
The new SMS tool is hosted and operated by National Focal Points in the individual Tripartite Countries.
The Online mechanism has been instrumental in assisting the region to understand the kind, frequency and category of NTBs that are encountered by economic operators as they are doing their business in the tripartite region. These include road blocks, delays in processing export/import documentations, permits among others.
The SMS tool is now being rolled out to Comesa member states as part of capacity building and empowerment to manage NTBs and fast tracking their removal. Economic operators who encounter NTBs will be able to send an SMS to the central number which will in turn relay messages to identified focal points numbers and the current online reporting system.