The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) has launched a new ‘single channel’ online service through which South African exporters are able to register any problems they are experiencing in their trade interactions and secure dedicated support from government to resolve concerns.
Through the Export Barriers Monitoring Mechanism (EBMM), which was officially launched on August 31, exporters can log both tariff and nontariff obstacles using an online form being developed for the department’s website, or by drafting an email to ExportBarriers@thedtic.gov.za.
The DTIC has committed to acknowledging receipt of the complaint within 24 hours and to appointing a dedicated official to follow up on the matter within three days of receiving the notification.
Within two weeks, that official should have contacted the exporter to develop an agreed ‘resolution plan’, outlining the steps that will be taken to resolve the complaint.
Deputy director-general for export development and promotion and outward investment Lerato Mataboge indicates that the DTIC views the service as part of government’s broader strategy of supporting an export-led recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, which has negatively affected many exporting firms.
In 2018, South African exporters faced an estimated 154 571 unique customs requirements worldwide.
The EBMM, she adds, will be used to assist with barriers encountered locally and in all foreign markets, but will have a particular focus on smoothing trade with the rest of Africa.
Increased levels of intra-Africa trade is a government priority following the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) by 54 African countries in 2019, 28 of which have since ratified the agreement.
The DTIC’s Christopher Wood says the EBMM will also have a strong focus on addressing the nontariff barriers stifling regional trade.
Wood warns, however, that these are often complex and could take time to resolve fully, as resolution processes may involve bilateral or multilateral agreements between governments.
“Emergency issues will be immediately escalated and receive priority support, however.”
Besides barriers in foreign markets, resolution plans could also entail strategies for addressing domestic barriers to trade, ranging from port congestion through to a problem a company may be having with another department or government agency.
The DTIC will encourage firms to log complaints even in those instances where resolution will be complex and time consuming, as it believes a database of common complaints can be a powerful tool when entering into bilateral or multilateral trade-facilitation discussions.
Business has welcomed the creation of the EBMM service, with Brics Business Council chairperson Busi Mabuza indicating that having a clear point of contact with government was important for exporters.
She called for more information sharing, however, and for the creation of a single portal where exporters could access information on South Africa’s trade agreements.
Mabuza also believes government could provide small exporters with more support in overcoming prevailing language barriers to trade, which was a problem not only in Brics bloc markets such as Brazil, Russia and China, but in regional markets such as Mozambique and Senegal.
South African Electrotechnical Export Council CEO Chiboni Evans adds that greater emphasis also has to be given to dealing with congestion at land borders and for increasing African content in African projects.
Evan reports that the Engineering and Technology Grouping of Export Councils has been established with the specific intention of ensuring more South Africa content in African infrastructure developments.
Agbiz CEO John Purchase has also welcomed the EBMM as a way of supporting export-led growth in South Africa.
He stresses, however, that the competitiveness of the country’s agriculture and agroprocessing exports will also depend on effort to improve market access and to further developing those markets in which South Africa is already active.
He notes, for instance, that the current absence of trade agreements with priority markets such as China, Japan and South Korea is placing South African at a trade disadvantage relative to its southern hemisphere peers of Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.
South African Medical Device Industry chairperson Marlon Burgess also underlines the need to aligned South Africa’s export strategy with its industrial strategy, as export growth depends largely on having domestic manufacturing capacity.
The opportunity to export South African medical devices is significant, but will only become truly feasible when the local industry accounts for a larger share of domestic demand. At present, domestic industry supplies about 10% of the medical equipment used in the health sector, which is heavily reliant on imports.