NEW YORK CITY—During the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly last Friday morning, New Partnerships for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) convened a panel for high-level talks to discuss how to efficiently cross international borders while reducing cost, overcoming bureaucracy and—in some cases—saving lives.
“Think about the vulnerable children in refugee camps waiting on vaccines from a UNICEF delivery,” said Ben Dotsei Malor, Chief Editor of the UN Daily News, as he moderated the Second Humanitarian Logistics Dialogue: Synergies Between the Development Community and the Private Sector for the Improved Movement of Humanitarian Goods in Africa.
Malor then posed the question: “How quickly can we move items across the continent?”
Based on the panel’s consensus, the answer was from three to four days, and that’s just to cross the border into a neighboring country. The usual scenario is a long queue of large trucks clogging intra-continental borders.
“This is not a good investment for us,” said African Development Bank’s Pierre Guislain, Vice president of Private Sector, Infrastructure and Industrialization. “Overweight trucks destroy roads that we finance, so there is no point in financing those roads again, especially if they have to wait at the border for three days.”
It would be difficult to agree on a maximum amount of tonnes per axle because truckers have strong lobbies in many countries, Guislain explained. “Truckers do not like axle-weight control. They want to overload their trucks and get more money for their shipping.”
How to manage the interface between government and the private sector is one of the challenges, Guislain said. “If we want to improve logistics, we need to streamline the process by strengthening regulations of the trucking industry.”
Tracking progress with the African Union’s Agenda for year 2063, the level of intra-African trade in agricultural commodities and services is targeted to increase by 100 percent in real terms, according to the latest Africa Sustainable Development Report, published last year by the UN Development Programme.
However,sometimes, the imposed duties on exports and charges on imports can make trade uncompetitive, said Yonov Frederick Agah, Deputy Director General of the World Trade Organization.
Language barriers and licensing agreements can also cause confusion and prevent the free movement of goods at international checkpoints, Agah said. “How do you ensure that licensing requirements or certification systems do not become bottle necks or add to cost?”
Agah advised that African nations consider how they can create Mutual Recognition Arrangements aimed at resolving these type of impediments to ensure a rapid and efficient transfer of goods in trade blocs.
In May 2016, NEPAD launched Move Africa, a transport and logistics initiative to enhance intra-Africa trade through comprehensive trans-boundary corridor development. The initiative will soon release a Traffic Light Report to rank the efficiency of border crossings in various nations throughout the continent.
“African countries need to be more proactive in looking at the impact of some of the decisions they make,” Agah said, referring to the red tape that can often cause barricades. “They should not just look at their own national economic interest but at the overall goodwill and benefit of everyone across the continent.”
Header Image Credit: L'antenne