UK government-funded trade development programme Trade Forward Southern Africa (TFSA) has launched its free-to-use Trade and Information Hub tool that enables businesses to identify potential export markets, as well as to access information about the customs duties, rules, regulations and standards exporters must meet in various markets.
The Web-based hub is designed to be easy to use and the system aims to support trade and export trade in the region.
It provides companies with a range of information relevant to trade and export for the aquaculture, fruits, nuts and vegetables, high-value foods, cosmetics and natural ingredients, and green technology sectors, says TFSA team leader Stephen Orr.
"The hub is a new trading gateway for goods to the UK and international markets. It is expected that the hub will help to reduce the efforts and costs for companies to identify and enter a new export market and make a contribution to economic development in the region," British High Commission Global Trade Programme adviser Kyllikkie Hamutumwa says.
The website, available in English and Portuguese, provides an export-readiness checklist for prospective exporters, as well as guides and links to resources and training from trade promotion organisations, says TFSA lead technical expert Rob Moodie.
"Companies can check what prices their products will fetch in various markets using the trade development agency International Trade Centre (ITC) market price information tool, and determine quickly what the requirements for preferential tariffs for their products are by using the resources of the trade promotion agencies in their target markets," he explains.
The hub collects and channels information about opportunities, tariffs, standards and regulatory requirements for exporters. It provides links to the resources of trade development and promotion organisations, such as the ITC; the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries, in Europe; and market research support agency the Global Trade Helpdesk (GTH), besides others.
Moodie demonstrated the website to exporters in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, eSwatini and Mozambique during a webinar on April 29. These countries are part of the UK-Southern African Customs Union and Mozambique Economic Partnership Agreement.
In addition to the current information and services on the Trade and Information Hub, the aim is to develop it as a connected learning platform to enable companies to increase their exports, including exports to the UK. The hub provides links to the ITC small and medium-sized enterprise training academy, and business organisations can also provide links to training resources and materials that they provide, he says.
The Trade and Information Hub is the result of the first year of the TFSA programme, which was aimed at generating inclusive, women-centred growth by providing companies with the opportunity to boost trade across and beyond Southern Africa, including to the UK. The hub has a page dedicated to supporting women and women-led companies to become exporters or grow their exports, Orr says.
TFSA has taken a stance of collaborating with business organisations, export councils, business chambers and trade promotion agencies and encourages businesses and business organisations to use the hub to help them support their companies or member companies.
The TFSA wants to ensure the hub continues after the programme ends by having a large user base across the Southern Africa region and thereby securing support from businesses and business organisations, says Orr.
"In the context of Covid-19, the importance of mutual prosperity is once again highlighted and the objective is to work with business to build more resilient value chains, provide access to crucial information and support compliance with international standards and customs procedures," says Hamutumwa.
Providing easily accessible information and tools supports the day-to-day work of business chambers to deliver support to businesses. TFSA focuses on partnerships with business organisations, and wants them to become the focal points of the Trade Information Hub. TFSA has signed collaboration notes with various business organisations in the region, and the goal is to get a few key organisations in each country that can become active participants in the promotion and dissemination of the hub, and ensure it continues into the future, says Moodie.
The TFSA encourages businesses that provide information and training to reach out to it to explore how these resources can be leveraged and accelerate the availability of information for business support and development, says Orr.
"TFSA is focused on providing access to central trade information through the hub and providing access to tools to support competitive growth in exports and enable companies to reach new markets," he says.