Trade in Africa has become a popular talking point; with infrastructural, innovation and technical challenges dogging the process, impacting economic growth, thwarting intra-country business, and slowing the development of regional economic corridors.
It has become clear that a sustainable trade environment is needed to boost trade, which is currently low in comparison to international trade.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) came into force in May 2019 and promises to be transformative for the continent, fostering and supporting intra-continental trade through providing broader and deeper economic integration across the continent and attracting investment, boosting trade, providing better jobs, reducing poverty, and increasing shared prosperity in Africa.
Measures need to be introduced to ease trade facilitation in a harmonious and efficient manner that provides long-term economic growth and positive social welfare.
Demystifying Single Windows – a game changer that will speed up the trade process
Whilst intra-Africa trade has enjoyed the spotlight in the past few years, equally, much has been said about Single Window Solutions as a means of easing the trading process. But what exactly does this mean?
The United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) Recommendation Number 33 addresses it by “recommending to Governments and Traders the establishment of a “Single Window”, whereby trade-related information and/or documents need only be submitted once at a single-entry point to fulfil all import, export, and transit-related regulatory requirements.” Additionally, it is defined as “a facility that allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardized information and documents with a single-entry point to fulfill all import, export, and transit-related regulatory requirements.” This digital platform is a paperless framework that will enhance business processes that facilitates trade in a sustainable manner. Called a “Single Window” because it centralizes all information and procedures related to import, export, and transit of goods in a country, it has been proven to cut customs clearance times and improve trade and transparency.
It is thus way more than a technical product, rather it is a process that will revolutionize the facilitation, tracking, tracing, and securing of all the trade operations through a declarative framework.
Leveraging expertise for seamless integration for the business community “on the go”
Single Window will create a New Trade Community around a Unique Pay Slip concept mobilizing and securing public revenues. It is an ease of trade with full integration of trade processes and logistics and thus will support the creation of economic corridors and regional trade integration.
With its global footprint and nearly 200-year legacy of testing, inspection and certification, French giant Bureau Veritas, an expert in Single Windows concessions, has become well versed with the framework, working with Governments to increase efficiency. A business to business to society company, Bureau Veritas supports customers across the continent to comply with international standards and best practice business processes, regulatory compliance measures, Verification of Conformities (VoC), risks assessments and providing trust between Government authorities and partners; whilst operating as a trusted, independent Third Party. A recent project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has made major impact on the trade community, with the World Bank declaring the company’s National Single Window a state-of-the-art illustration of a successful project.
Stéphane Gaudechon, Vice-President Market Leader Government Services for Bureau Veritas commented: “We assist companies to comply with regulatory standards in support of import and export trade within and outside of Africa. Our solid technical infrastructure and professional expertise provides a secure foundation for the Single Window digital platform, which centralizes all information and procedures relating to import, export, and transit of goods in a country, thus facilitating intra Africa trade.”
The Single Windows concept is transferable to various typologies from Maritime Single to Port Community system, Trade Single Window and National Single Window applications. The framework is adaptable to suit the needs of clients and is a groundbreaking process, totally changing the way of facilitating trade for the business community.
According to Stéphane Gaudechon, Single Window is rolled out through an interconnected process, “The system is deployed in a country at the border post depending on the specific area that is covered. Our business processes are relevant for all types of Single Windows – from pre-customs to cargo, dealing with interoperability customs, customs’ post-operations all the way to the final customer. We have robust expertise and experience in all domains – from operations to governance and change management – areas of excellence required to roll out the framework effectively and efficiently. Single Windows requires a regional approach as the framework is geared towards facilitating trade amongst various areas. Since it is a concept, no certification as such is required and does not belong to any TIC body per se.”
Turning challenges into opportunities for growth and development
Whilst countries have different interconnectivity, infrastructural, and technology maturation levels within and with one another, the lack of interconnectivity between the regions, sectors, people, teams, and skills can provide challenges. This, however, poses the opportunity for growth and development of a new business community with many different stakeholders working together, who may not traditionally be accustomed to discussing and aligning on business and trade solutions to create a common good.
It is anticipated that the Single Window Solution will ultimately become a “must have” trade vehicle for countries. Recently, the International Maritime Organization FAL 44th Session of the Facilitation Committee has declared it a mandatory requirement for countries with coastlines who partner with the IMO and are competitive in the international trade arena, to implement a Maritime Single Window solution. “The system, with its Unique Payment digital platform provides a harmonized information integration in a single point of entry to plug and play, simplifying and automating trade processes and thereby creating a New Trade Community within the Maritime sector. It can reduce a 40-day document clearance process to one day maximum,” enthuses Stéphane Gaudechon.
The benefits speak for themselves: for Governments, a more effective and efficient deployment of resources, improved trader compliance, correct revenue yield, enhanced security, increased integrity, and transparency. For traders: cutting costs through reducing delays and faster clearance and release, a predictable application and explanation of rules, a more effective and efficient deployment of resources and increased security and transparency. As a “green process” it is paperless and accelerates operations, yielding improved results and more sustainable parameters in the long term. Stemming from digitalization, it has become known as a “One stop shop” as it secures the entire trade process on a centralized digital platform in a secure manner. Providing clearing permits, being interconnected with customs before and after the transaction, transparent yet providing all the requisite information for trade and Government. This cutting-edge innovation is where Bureau Veritas is a leader in the field.
For public authorities and Government agencies, Single Window Solutions are becoming crucial to foster intra-African trade and improve transparency and ethical corporate governance. Collaborating with the appropriate professional experts to roll out the frameworks will encourage trust, desrisking, upholding of ethics, facilitation of supply chain values and sustainable practices. This in turn will spark much-needed Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) on the Continent. Various authoritative bodies, including the United Nations have declared Single Windows an imperative solution to boost and secure intra-African trade. It has become an increasing practice on the continent and is successfully making a difference to more Government bodies, authoritative bodies, and companies. The World Bank has recently endorsed Single Window Solutions managed by Bureau Veritas. The company is in the unique position to deploy all the elements required for the successful implementation of Single Windows Solutions in Africa – professional expertise, innovative technology, sustainable green practices, change management and business process skills, a trusting and ethical framework that will help shape the future of trade on the Continent.
Adopting the Single Window Solution is a journey involving change management and an appetite for “on the go” speedy business processes that save time and money. It needs to be viewed from a long-term perspective with stakeholders committed to working together synergistically in a mutually beneficial manner. It promises to improve regional integration, infrastructural development, and open economic corridors, necessitating smooth co-ordination between countries. Single Window lies at the heart of trade facilitation as it drives Traders to new channels with simplified procedures. On a continent that is ripe for trade and excited to enhance economic prosperity, Single Window provides a new paradigm, reaching beyond processes by streamlining new rules and parameters.