Malawi, Eswatini and Zambia launch pilot phase of SADC e-certificate of origin

In order to simplify customs procedures and facilitate smooth trade amongst Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states, Malawi, Eswatini and Zambia have launched the pilot phase of SADC e-certificate of origin — an electronically processed document that attests that goods declared by an exporter conform to rules of origin.

The SADC e-certificate of origin is set to increase the flow of inter-regional trade, support regional industrialization as well as regional economic development — as per the criteria provided in the SADC protocol on trade.

The system will be fully rolled out to the entire region by 2024, as said by SADC Secretariat’s director of finance, investment and customs, Sadwick Mtonakutha at the launch on Wednesday at Ryalls Hotel in Blantyre.

Biziwick officially declaring launch of the system

He said the system also complements the dream of the African continental free trade area, adding: “SADC being a block, contributes immensely to the continental picture and in this case the e-certificate of origin is just part of consolidating the SADC free trade area which is a building block to a continental free trade area.

“Once we achieve efficiency at regional level in terms of moving goods across the border to which electronic certificate of origin is contributing, that means the continental free trade area will also be realized,” he said.

Host of the milestone event, John Biziwick — Commissioner General of Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) — said the newly launched system will help in eliminating some of the challenges faced with the manual system, that include delays and overhead costs incurred by exporters.

Biziwick assured that MRA has adopted the new system in order to improve the rankingon the ease of doing business index as Malawi ranks on 109 out of 190 countries in the world.

“Over the years, business people and customs administrations have been processing the certificate manually by using authority in the country of origin of the goods.

Cross section of the participants

“With the introduction of this system, it will significantly reduce the time taken and the costs that businesses used to incur when applying for the manual certificate.

“The new digital certificate will make life easier, convenient, safer and faster; thereby, creating a conducive environment for trade facilitation among businesses in the region,” he said.

The system, launched under the theme: ‘Enhancing trade facilitation through the SADC electronic certificate of origin’, whose issuance — that includes registration of exporters, stamps and signatures — will be done at businesspersons comfort of their offices and homes.

The system, that was approved by the SADC committee of Ministers of Trade in 2019, will also allow manufacturers, producers and exporters to electronically register their products for preferential treatment.

The main players of the pilot system

Biziwick said: “The introduction of the SADC eCertificate of Origin will increase the seamless flow of intra-trade across the region by eliminating impediments caused by the manual process that has been archived from this day.

“The introduction of the SADC eCertificate of Origin has come at a time when MRA is adopting modern technologies with a view to reduce the cost of compliance and tax administration.”

He thus highlighted some of the innovations the Authority has put in place that include implementation of Msonkho Online — the integrated tax administration system — which was rolled out to automate MRA services more particularly under the Domestic Taxes Division.

It enables the taxpayer access various services that include registration, submission of tax returns, applications of tax refunds and other services and available 24/7.

“The SADC eCertificate of Origin is in line with Malawi’s domestic revenue mobilization strategy for 2021-2026 and the MRA corporate strategic plan for 2020-2025 — that advocates for adoption of new technologies with a view to serve the customer better.

“I, therefore, appeal to the business community in Malawi and the entire SADC region, more particularly exporters and importers, to make good use of the system which will reduce the cost of business and thereby drive growth.

In an interview soon after declaring the system officially launched, the MRA Commissioner General added that the manual system was prone to fraudulent declaration of goods in which importers and exporters connived to provide fake certificates of origin.

“The SADC member states agreed that imports and exports should be at a lower cost if they were coming from the Region but the players in the industry would declare goods as if they are from the Region, when in fact they had been imported from other countries such as China.

“The manual verification process was taking too long to be processed that was an unnecessary cost on the part of the importers. Such cost will be greatly reduced and even eliminated through This SADC eCertificate of Origin,” Biziwick said.—Additional reporting by Duncan Mlanjira, Nyasa Times

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