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[NAIROBI] Plans to set up a transparent and easily accessible database with information on trade and markets in countries of East and Southern Africa could boost the free flow of goods and services in fields such as agriculture and health, experts have said.

Inadequate access to trade data at the country level has been a barrier, according to participants in a capacity-building workshop held in Nairobi last week (10-11 July).

They gathered there from 10 countries — Botswana, Egypt, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe — for training on how to organise and present data on trade in online portals that can be accessed by people such as farmers and businesspersons.

“We want to ensure critical information on trade is easily accessible to the business community.”

Mukayi Musarurwa

The initiative is funded by The African Development Bank, which contributed US$7.5 million. The UN Conference on Trade and Development is providing technical assistance to the member states in COMESA, EAC and SADC regions for the project.

The database, which is still being developed, is set to contain data from 26 countries that make the tripartite free-trade area of the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

It will use an online mechanism to monitor and report non-tariff barriers (NTBs): restrictions on imports and exports through any method other than a tariff, such as licensing or inspections.

“We are here to help nations on how to develop information portals and a database on trade,” says Vonesai Hove, NTBs online mechanism manager of the Tripartite Capacity Building Programme.

Hove says that under the programme, member states will receive financial and technical support to develop a database that will contain information on their prerequisites for trade, such as health and environmental standards. The information will help traders adhere to those standards, she notes.

Mukayi Musarurwa, a standards quality assurance consultant from COMESA’s secretariat, brings the example of livestock products such as milk that go to waste because businesspersons are unaware of requirements for importing and exporting the product, such as packaging and labelling. Japheth Mutinda, a Kenya-based farmer and agribusiness man, believes that building such a database could spur agricultural productivity.
“I harvest a lot of vegetables, onions and watermelons but they usually go to waste because of a limited local market,” says Mutinda.  He adds that access to information on countries’ export requirements will help him and other farmers access a larger market, create jobs and improve livelihoods.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.