On 30 April 2021, the World Customs Organization (WCO) announced that following the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in January 2021, the WCO and the AfCFTA Secretariats had held an exploratory meeting to discuss prospects of future cooperation to ensure a smooth implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement. The meeting was convened on 26 April 2021, in an online format, bringing together Customs and trade experts from the AfCFTA Secretariat and representatives of relevant technical directorates and cooperation programmes of the WCO Secretariat.
In his remarks, the Director of Trade in Goods and Competition at the AfCFTA Secretariat, stressed the timeliness of the meeting as many aspects of the AfCFTA Agreement directly related to Customs. He welcomed the opportunity to start the dialogue with the WCO as the AfCFTA Secretariat had identified several priority areas where support would be required, such as the Harmonized System (HS), preferential Rules of Origin (RoO), Customs Valuation, trade facilitation and application of schedules of tariff concessions, as well as transit and capacity building.
Representatives of the AfCFTA Secretariat expressed their appreciation of the ongoing WCO initiatives benefiting African countries, such as the WCO Mercator Programme to support the implementation of the WTO TFA, the WCO-JICA Joint Project to expand a pool of trainers in Africa, the newly launched WCO-SIDA trade facilitation Programme, and the WCO-European Union (EU) Programme for Harmonized System in Africa to assist countries and Regional Economic Communities of the continent to implement the Harmonized System (HS). They expressed their hope that further actions would be launched to offer assistance to Africa, to ensure that Customs becomes an enabler of the implementation process rather than a hindrance.
In conclusion, the meeting participants agreed that the next steps in the dialogue between the two organisations would include establishing a legal framework for a long-term partnership, as well as determining high priority areas of cooperation where swift action would be required. Technical directorates and cooperation programmes of the WCO will then plan and deliver activities in their respective areas of expertise on that basis.
Story by: Riaan de Lange