Few parts of the world have pioneered the cell phone with such ingenuity as East Africa. You can pay bills with it, check crop weather with it and, when you’re not checking your bank balance, talk to your auntie in Kisangani or Kigali or Kericho.
But now, for the first time in East Africa, the humble cell phone is being used as a beacon to champion free, smoother and cheaper trade across the region by naming and shaming unnecessary or duplicated barriers to the free movement of goods.
The short messaging system (SMS) online non-tariff barrier (NTB) reporting and monitoring mechanism, was developed by the Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA) to get the business community not just to grumble about NTBs but to log them, report them and get them referred to those with the power to overturn them.
Such is the beauty of the system that it has been nominated for the award of Best Project of the Year by the International Chambers of Commerce and World Chambers Federation, a grouping of senior business, trade and commerce experts.
“It is a great pleasure to see that the in house innovation can stretch its wings to the international community. The recognition that the NTBs SMS and online reporting and monitoring system has received through its nomination in the finals, is an evidence that what we do as a private sector in creating favorable business environment adds value to the lives of people; not only because the world can see it but most importantly, that we contribute towards improving people’s welfare by making it easier to report and for authorities to monitor and eliminate all barriers hindering trade flow”, said Executive Director, TCCIA, Dan Machemba.
The advent of this way of reporting and monitoring NTBs gives strong ground for the private sector to undertake advocacy in a more evidence based approach. It’s through creation of the enabling environment for trade that we can deepen the EAC integration and vividly see that the people in the region benefit out of it.
“The World Chambers Competition provides a unique opportunity for chambers to showcase originality and ingenuity, demonstrate determination to strengthen SMEs and improve services to members,” concluded Machemba.
The scheme has been supported by the Tanzania office of TradeMark East Africa (TMEA), a multi-donor-funded development agency seeking to streamline EAC trade to cut the cost of doing business and sow prosperity through strong economic integration.
The East Africa Community is one of the fastest growing Regional Economic Communities in the world today, yet the cost of trading across borders and transport costs specifically continue to be among the highest. This system enables private sector to proactively report and monitor NTBs to trade“, said TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) Country Director for Tanzania, Paulina Elago.
NTBs are any hurdle to trade outside of customs and taxes and East Africa, alas, has hundreds of them from duplicated weighbridges to ‘flying’ or ungazetted police roadblocks to bureaucratic restrictions that cost time and money.
Experts estimate that transport accounts for 40 percent of the cost of goods in East Africa – anything from plasma TVs to water pumps – once they reach the retailer’s counter or factory floor.
To date, the system has received about 2,770 SMSs from the users/business community and has sent out about 2,370 SMSs to respond to the reported complaints. About 40 complaints have been listed as NTBs out of which 21 have been eliminated and others are at different levels of elimination.
TCCIA acts as the private sector focal point on NTBs and gathers evidence so that it can lobby for their elimination. The system is also a source of information for policy makers who are directly responsible for some of those very NTBs.
Take the example of Sunflag Arusha, which was sending a consignment of cloth to Uganda but got stuck at Customs at the Mutukula border because of problems over the required Certificate of Origin that all goods in the EAC need to have.
The Company’s representative reported this problem using the cell phone SMS system. It was resolved and the driver and cargo crossed the border the following day.
This system is at the heart of work being done across the East African region with TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) support to facilitate the smooth free trade.
Previous winners of this Chamber of Commerce “Oscar” include the Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce in 2011 for its role in rebuilding the city after a devastating earthquake.
The final project presentation will take place on Tuesday 23rd April during the World Chambers Congress to be held in Doha, Qatar this year. To see other finalists visit: http://www.iccwbo.org/training-and-events/competitions-and-awards/world-chamber-competition/2013-world-chambers-competition-finalists/