The heads of the two organisations met on May 24 at COMESA’s headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia, to seal the €3 million (US$3.34 million) deal, which builds on UNCTAD’s experience in helping countries on the continent to facilitate trade.

The agreement also entails helping COMESA’s 21 member countries to set up or improve trade information portals, so traders and businesses can easily know what’s required to import and export in the region.

Both COMESA and UNCTAD have partnered again in the past 10 years, in 10 COMESA member countries to set up national committees to coordinate the work needed to implement the provisions of the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement, which entered into force in February 2017.

A key feature of the joint collaboration has been enhancing trade in transit corridors that pass through the region, particularly the Northern and Central Corridors.

For instance, in Rwanda, UNCTAD's automated customs data system, ASYCUDA, crucially decreased the time needed to clear products at the border from 11 days in 2010 to less than 2 days in 2014, which resulted to the cut of cost being from US$35 to US$5.

COMESA Secretary-General Chileshe Kapwepwe commented

(We) recognize the role UNCTAD plays in promoting trade facilitation, its experience and capacity in modernizing customs administrations, and the intellectual property of ASYCUDA.  am confident that UNCTAD will deliver the expected outcomes as enshrined in the co-delegation agreement

Moreover, UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi, commented that the benefits provided by this cooperation will be fruitful for the whole continent, as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which entered into force on 30 May, depends on the health of the continent’s regional economic communities – and COMESA is the largest in terms of members.

In addition, the AdCFTA is also part of the Tripartite Free Trade Area but at the very base of how to develop the architecture and practicalities of the AfCFTA.

In the three years following, UNCTAD will partner with the COMESA secreteriat to build a customs automation regional support centre to make sure the sustainability of improvements achieved with ASYCUDA.Concluding, the agreement is part of an €85 million (US$95 million) EU trade facilitation package for COMESA financed through the 11th European Development Fund.

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UNCTAD Secretary-General Dr Mukhisa Kituyi and his COMESA counterpart Chileshe Kapwepwe