Crossborder traders have lauded the launch of the Comesa simplified trade regime between Zimbabwe and Malawi and urged the two governments to use the opportunity to better their working environment. The regime allows traders to import and export goods on the common list of products valued below or at US$1 000 duty-free and reduces paperwork required by customs officials to just one form making it easier for traders to benefit from the Comesa free trade area.
In an interview on the sidelines of the launch at Nyamapanda border post on Tuesday, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Cross Border Traders Association Mr Augustine Tawanda said the move would assist in formalising their activities.
"The launch comes on the backdrop of our exclusion from trade and economic policy making which are largely a preserve of medium and large enterprises," he said.
In a speech read on his behalf by the director of Gender Mrs Emelia Tembo, Comesa secretary general Mr Sindiso Ngwenya urged the two governments to help decrease challenges encountered by women crossborder traders.
"Hardworking women are facing challenges in this business; they are subjected to all forms of abuse sexually, physically or even emotionally for them to make ends meet. I implore your leadership to consider women-specific support initiatives as part of STR, which will include awareness raising for border officials, better access to finance and even construction of accommodation and storage facilities for women at border towns," he said.
Mr Tawanda said through the information desk stationed at the border, small-scale traders would have the opportunity to voice their concerns.
"Here is an opportunity to be in a negotiation platform, border officials can now meet with local traders and be represented in the national working group. The national working group also suggests the goods to be exempted from duty," he said.
Mr Tawanda urged authorities to treat cross border traders with respect.
"Just one bus has the potential of carrying US$3 million worth of goods and this is significant to the nation's gross domestic product, we should therefore be given the necessary assistance to improve our activities," he said.
He said more needed to be done to ensure that the right people benefit from the facility.
He urged authorities to review the control of trade information desks, stationed at the borders to ensure sustainability.
He, however, criticised the manning of the information desks by COMESA officials.
"We have reservations on the sustainability of this programme, there is a need for an institutionalised plan that gives the traders the controlling powers and not COMESA," he said.
Malawian Cross Border Traders Association chairman Mr Dexes Chanza urged authorities to ensure that the agreement comes together with better customer liaison.
"We have been targets for rigorous checking at road blocks and check points, sometimes the examinations are done in a humiliating manner especially for women traders. Most Malawian cross border traders fear Nyamapanda border post because of such acts," he said.
Mr Chanza said the regime, was however beneficial in the way it formalises the activities of small-scale traders.
"I would like to appeal to my fellow cross border traders to be aggressive and take advantage of the COMESA simplified trade regime," he said.
Zimbabwe has a similar agreement with Zambia and is working to launch another with Mozambique.