The Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states, during a meeting on Wednesday, welcomed a new digital certificate of origin that is intended to facilitate intra-regional trade by simplifying customs procedures and eliminating manual processing for the registration of exporters, among other functions.
Certificates of origin are legal documents that accompany goods moving across borders, certifying the country of origin of the goods, and enabling governments, customs administrations, importers, and exporters to track the movement of goods.
According to the SADC secretariat’s director of finance, investment, and customs, Sadwick Mtonakutha, SADC has developed and adopted instruments, among them is the regional frameworks for an electronic certificate of origin.
He said this system is a simplified trade regime for small-scale cross-border traders, authorised economic operators, customs-to-business cooperation, and regional transit.
“These provide key principles for simple, effective and modern customs procedures,” he said.
According to him, a study conducted by the OECD indicates that the implementation of trade facilitation measures can reduce total trade costs by almost 10 per cent.
“If applied in a uniform, predictable and transparent manner, these instruments and tools will facilitate international trade, while simultaneously ensuring compliance with national laws and regulations,” said Mtonakutha
He added global trade is the backbone of regional, and world economies which in 2021 was valued at US$ 28 trillion.
“Despite its importance, trading across borders remains the most complicated process which is still dependent on hard paper documents,” he said.
He expressed that SADC views the implementation of electronic certificates of origin as a significant step in securing the trading environment to save time and costs and increase transparency.
Mtonakutha said the electronic certificate of origin is also meant to support the implementation of the SADC industrialisation strategy.
“The electronic certificate of origin system has in-built security features, such as online electronic certificate of origin authenticity verification, optical watermarking technology to distinguish between original and copies of e-CoO issued, digital stamps and signatures of authorised officials, microprint to deter unauthorised reproduction of the electronic certificate of origin, barcode to ensure data integrity, Public Key Infrastructure or what is called PKI technology, to ensure data security.”
In addition, the electronic cerficate has a combination of compliance and security features aimed at empowering the supply chain network.
“By verifying compliance with origin-related requirements, customs administrations ensure protection against diversion or transshipment of consignments that pose risks or impede free trade agreements due to tariffs or other duties,” Mtonakutha explained.
At the same event, John Biziwick the commissioner general of Malawi revenue authority said over the years, business people and customs administrations have been processing the certificate manually by the issuing authority in the country of origin of the goods.
This he said has been causing a lot of challenges such as delays and overhead costs incurred by exporters.
“The new SADC e Certificate of Origin will, therefore, improve the way we conduct business in the region. This is because the challenges that were associated with the manual processing of the certificate will no longer be the order of the day,” said Biziwick.
The SADC secretariat is implementing this SADC e-Certificate of Origin in a pilot phase in Eswatini, Zambia, and Malawi before rolling it out to other member states by 2024.
Meanwhile, Healey Mweemba a representative of the German Development Cooperation said the German Development Cooperation is firm a supporter of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) trade facilitation agreement (TFA) which came into effect in February 2015.
“We are committed to supporting trade facilitation because of the immense benefits that collectively we can once fully and effectively implemented.”