Mobilizing trade and transport operators in West Africa to break down non-tariff barriersBy Sarah Quainoo, Membership Coordinator, Borderless Alliance
Borderless Alliance is a private sector-led initiative that was established in 2012 to promote free movement of goods in West Africa through the removal of trade and transport barriers, and the simplification and harmonization of procedures. Consequently, it envisions a West Africa, where a truck can move goods across the region quickly, efficiently and cheaply, whether from Abidjan to Lagos or from Cotonou to Timbuktu.
Boosting regional trade
Based on the assumption that streamlining procedures, tackling corruption and facilitating the movement of people and goods will reduce costs for traders, Borderless Alliance believes that such measures will help companies to grow, create jobs and generate more revenue for governments as well as income for people. More efficient transport means more trade, which in turn means stronger economic growth, higher profits for companies, greater income for national governments, increased investment and more jobs.
Based on this reasoning, Borderless Alliance aims to foster change by exposing trade inefficiencies throughout the region. From an initial group of six, it now has more than 90 members from the private sector, across West Africa. With the premise that by working together, businesses and traders can advocate effectively for change, the Alliance’s membership base draws from a broad range of organizations involved in the trade supply chain, such as port authorities, freight forwarders, logistics operators, manufacturers, and traders.
Key functions and activities
Borderless Alliance’s structure comprises a General Assembly, an Executive Committee, a Secretariat, and National Committees in nine countries across the West African region. One of its key functions is evidence-based advocacy, which entails working with its key partners and stakeholders to collect, process and analyse statistical data on trade and transport at the borders as well as documenting key concerns, such as road governance issues (checkpoints, bribery and delays along major regional transit corridors), border crossing times and port dwell times.
In addition, Borderless Alliance undertakes specific studies and surveys related to trade corridors, transport infrastructure and logistics to ensure that credible data on the true state of intra-regional trade is regularly collected and disseminated to decision-makers. These actions facilitate any necessary government policy changes that could stimulate the development of economies and improve trade corridors, while enabling users of these corridors to make informed choices about which corridors to use in transporting their cargo.
Other activities of the Alliance include:
- organizing high level meetings with national governments to drive the implementation of regional regulations at a national level;
- facilitating bilateral cross-border meetings to address issues related to border crossing;
- providing feedback from the private sector and business community to Regional Economic Communities to guide policy formulation;
- engaging with uniformed services, such as the Customs, Police and Gendarmerie, in various countries to address road governance challenges and other non-tariff barriers (NTBs) to
Besides advocacy, Borderless Alliance also runs a network of Border Information Centres (BICs) at border crossings along highly-trafficked trade corridors in the region, where transporters and traders can get immediate help with cargo clearance problems, as well as information and training. At present, six BICs are operating, including the first one built at the Ghana-Togo border, and the newest one at the Ghana-Cote d’Ivoire border. Average clearance times at borders where BICs operate has decreased by 27%.
Furthermore, Borderless Alliance also sensitizes and trains stakeholders on transport policies and regulations by conducting workshops and roadshows for example. The Alliance also publishes and disseminates guides on Customs clearance procedures and transport regulations covering West Africa’s most important trade routes. Additionally, its members receive regular updates on regional policy changes and how they affect their businesses.
Last but not least, Borderless Alliance has developed a specific tool, which enables NTBs encountered to be reported and monitored, with a view to resolving them. Known as the Borderless E-Platform (www.tradebarrierswa.org), it allows for the continuous collation and collection of constraints faced by stakeholders in the trade and transport industry, and generates statistics on the issues and locations of barriers reported.
Below are some of Borderless Alliance’s success stories, which validate the importance and efficacy of using advocacy and the consultative approach to achieve prime outcomes:
- In Togo, joint advocacy with the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) led to the removal of all police and gendarme checkpoints along Togo’s coastal corridor in 2011.
- In Cote d’Ivoire, joint advocacy with the UEMOA led to a ministerial decree limiting the total number of checkpoints in the country to 33.
- In Niger, joint advocacy with the UEMOA led to a ministerial decree reducing the number of checkpoints in the country.
- In 2013, advocacy efforts with the Ministry of Finance, Police and Customs in Benin led to the adoption of a presidential decree in December of that year, limiting the number of checkpoints on Benin’s corridors and mandating all uniformed services to wear name-tags while on duty.
- In response to a high level meeting that took place during September 2014 with the Ministry of Economy and Finance in Benin on high transit fees laid down in the Finance Act of 2015, the Ministry decided to exempt products manufactured in any of the member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) from the 5% ad valorem statistical tax, as well as all other raw materials believed to be of ECOWAS origin.
- Various consultations with Côte d’Ivoire Customs, which were aimed at resolving some of the inefficiencies that had been identified with Customs formalities that led to delays in crossing the border, resulted in the decentralization of the process of validating the ECOWAS Certificate of Origin (COO) to various Côte d’Ivoire border offices in November 2014.
- Consultative meetings with the Ghana Police Service, in collaboration with other partners, during March and April 2015, resulted in a directive prohibiting the police from stopping transit vehicles on Ghana’s corridors.
- Withdrawal of the Special Re-exportation Tax – called the Taxe Special de re-exportation in French – in December 2016, as one of the suggestions made by the Alliance to Benin’s Ministry of Economy and Finance in September 2014, following reports by the country’s private sector that the tax at the ad valorem rate of 8% on certain products was affecting the competitiveness of their products on the regional market.
- Removal in 2016 of the requirement to produce a COO in Benin for agricultural products and handmade goods in accordance with the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) regulation, following which a circular was issued to all Heads of Customs, Security Checkpoints, Border Security, Institutions and Trade and Transport Unions as well as their relevant senior managers informing them that the COO was no longer a Customs requirement for transporting agricultural products and livestock.
Borderless Alliance plans to conduct a study to determine a baseline analysis of transaction times and costs, current clearance procedures and causes of delays at Niangoloko border post, located on Burkina Faso’s south-western border with Cote d’Ivoire, where a BIC, sponsored by the African Development Bank (AfDB), will soon be opened.
Additionally, discussions are already underway with Mali’s Minister of Transport, Mali Customs and other key stakeholders involved in trade facilitation, regarding the establishment of BICs at Kidira and Diboli, located on the Mali-Senegal border, also under the sponsorship of the AfDB.