East Africa: Comesa Pilots Digital Rules of Origin System

Burundi, Rwanda and Kenya are among 15 members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) ready to pilot the Comesa Electronic Certificate of Origin (eCO) system.

The eCO which is one of the latest tools developed under the Comesa Digital Free Trade Area (FTA) initiative is expected to facilitate intra-regional trade through reduction in the costs and time required in registration, application and submission of certificates and the post-verification of originating goods.

Other countries in the ready group are the DR Congo, Egypt, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sudan, Tunisia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

On June 10, the Comesa Secretariat undertook to collaborate with these countries to develop national piloting plans to ensure electronic certificates are implemented to boost the value of intra-Comesa trade, which has stagnated since FTA instruments were put in place in 2000. Implementing the eCo system has gained urgency given the challenges that movement of goods across borders is facing as a result of restrictive coronavirus measures.

INTRA-REGIONAL TRADE

Certificates of Origin are issued to exporters within the Comesa's FTA to confer preferential treatment to goods originating from an FTA member. The uptake of the electronic certificate has not gained traction in the past for lack of the necessary regulations under the Comesa Rules of Origin.

In November last year, the 40th Meeting of the Council of Ministers adopted the draft regulations to implement the Comesa eCO system to facilitate trade for businesses and trade operators.

"The Covid-19 pandemic calls for speedy implementation of the Comesa eCo by all member states. This together with the improvement of Customs cooperation and trade facilitation, will no doubt enhance intra-regional trade and attract more investments into the region," said the Comesa Director of Trade and Customs, Dr Christopher Onyango.

"It is disheartening that despite the preferences offered under the FTA, intra-Comesa trade is at eight per cent of total trade, compared with Africa's 15 per cent, America's 47 per cent, Asia's 61 per cent and Europe's 67 per cent," Dr Onyango added.

Comesa is the largest regional economic organization in Africa, with 21 member states with a population of about 390 million.

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