RWANDA – The government of Rwanda through the Minister for Trade and Industry, has called for harmonization of standards to cement bilateral relations among the African countries, for increased intra-African trade, at the opening of a two-day meeting of the council for the African Organization for Standardization (ARSO).

ARSO is a pan-African framework that seeks to harmonize African standards, conformity assessment and procedures in order to reduce technical barriers to trade with a view to promote intra-African trade, industrialization and international trade.

Béata Habyarimana, the trade minister has warned that mandatory national regulations on health, safety, and the environment, as well as market-driven standards might undermine free movement of goods and services on the continent.

 The meeting is part of a four-day series of physical and hybrid ARSO General Assembly events, running under the theme, “The Beginning of Trade Among the African Countries under the AfCFTA Agreement: Boosting Intra-African Trade Within the African Single Market through ‘One Standard – One Test – One Certificate – Accepted Everywhere.”

The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), is a pan-African trading framework signed in Kigali in 2018 which took effect on 1 January this year.

 So far, sanctioned by 27 countries and signed by 54 nations, it is the world’s largest free trade zone with a promise to transform the economic fortunes of a continent of 1.2 billion people and a combined GDP of US$3.5 trillion.

Habyarimana has called on African governments to bolster cooperation to achieve the goals of the trading framework, especially the creation of a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments as this will pave way for the hastening of the establishment of a continental customs union.

“Harmonization of the African standards, conformity assessment procedures and technical regulation leveraging on the benefits of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRMs) whereby African countries will recognize one another’s testing and certification requirements as acceptable, without undertaking further testing or customs inspections will inevitably reduce technical barriers to trade,” she said.

Rwanda Standards Board director general, Raymond Murenzi, also spoke about the benefits and impacts of harmonized standards on intra-Africa trade and free movement of goods, services and people across the continent.

He said that unifying standards has the potential to serve as both an “enabler and game changer” for Africa’s socio-economic integration.

As stated by the Rwanda shafaqna, the trade minister cited resolutions of a June 2013 AU Conference of Ministers of Industry, held in Kenya, which touted the Pan-African Quality Infrastructure as the “continental platform for all matters related to standardization, metrology, accreditation and conformity assessment.”

This, she said, would help “strengthen the competitiveness of Africa’s goods and services and contribute towards the industrialization of the continent and its sustainability.”

Citing 2018 predictions by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the minister has quoted that AfCFTA has the potential to increase intra-African trade by 52.3 per cent and to double this trade.

“It could also stimulate intra-African trade by up to US$35 billion per year, or 52% (above the baseline) by 2022 and lead to a US$10 billion decrease in imports from outside the continent, while boosting agriculture and industrial exports by up to US$4 billion (7%) and US$21 billion (5%) respectively,” she said.

The minister observed the need to emphasize the understanding of linkages between global trade, export competitiveness and sustainable development, and reckon that standardization is at the forefront to enable development of mutually beneficial trade policies.

Experts and policymakers already anticipate that, under AfCFTA, African countries, with different regulatory frameworks and heterogenous standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment regimes will continue to be confronted with the main Technical Barriers to Trade issues.