Understanding the Mandate of ARSO in the Context of Africa’s Trade performance

The chief principle mandate of ARSO is to facilitate intra-African and World Trade through Harmonisation Standards and Conformity Assessment which directly aims at reducing Technical Barriers to Trade in Africa.

The intra-Africa trade, which is expected to enhance the absorptive capacity of the continent and mitigates its exposure to global volatility, and which at 15% compares unfavourably with Europe (67%), Asia (58%), North America (48%) and Latin America (20%) (Afreximbank 2018). On the global scale the African countries, though, have equally made considerable progress in their economic transition towards a market-based system and inclusion, the challenge to adjust to the standards, norms and regulations (TBTs) which are used in international trade, remains. The report highlights that the Continent continues to engage at the periphery (3%) of the global economy, with a prediction of 4% by 2030. (AfDB et al. 2014.). This dismal performance in Africa’s external and internal trade, therefore, has remained a major focus of much enquiry, with the Africa Progress Panel (African Progress report 2014) and World Bank 2013, giving evidence that NTBs, especially the Technical Barriers to Trade (Standards, Technical Regulations, Conformity Assessment (Inspection, Testing and Certification) present substantial obstacle to increasing intra-regional and intra-African Trade.

The African Development Bank’s (AFDB 2019) African Economic Outlook projects Africa’s GDP growth to accelerate to 4.0 percent in 2019 and 4.1 percent in 2020 but only if there will be growth of industrial activities to spur intra-African Trade and among other things and mostly of great relevance to the mandate of ARSO, the removal of all nontariff barriers on goods and services, especially the Technical Barriers to trade that have been a great hindrance to the free movement of Goods and services in Africa. The Bank also calls for the elimination of the applied bilateral tariffs in Africa, keeping rules of origin simple, flexible, and transparent. The report highlights that the Gross domestic product reached an estimated 3.5 percent in 2018, about the same as in 2017 and up from 2.1 percent in 2016 ((AFDB 2019).

With different Regional Economic Communities (RECS – EAC, SADC, COMESA, EAC) African countries face the challenge of variation in certification, testing, inspection practices, and standards used by different countries on the basis of the WTO obligation and rights. The African Development Bank’s (AFDB 2019) African Economic Outlook gives Africa a picture of a continent with a general economic performance that continues to improve.  The resultant divergence of standards and technical regulations make trade between African countries difficult, contentious, and expensive.

Formed in 1977 by the African Union (formerly OAU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and currently with a membership of 37 African countries, (Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, New State of Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Sudan, South Sudan, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, with Zanzibar as an observer member), the ARSO mandate of coordinating the harmonisation and implementation of African Standards and conformity assessment procedures continues to be a strategy for promoting the intra-African Trade and integration Agenda.

The Organisation’s key programmes such as Standards Harmonisation based on thirteen (13) Technical Harmonisation Committees, with Experts from all over Africa ensures the harmonisation and implementation of African standards (in reference to Africa Standards Harmonisation Model-ASHAM)  across the continent. The ARSO Conformity Assessment Programme under the ARSO COCO drives the harmonisation of Conformity Assessment regimes in Africa, promoting Mutual Recognition Arrangements and Common Regulatory Framework. The ARSO DISNET, including the African Trade Web Portal ensures the dissemination Trade and Standards information to facilitate compliance to standards and trade requirements across the continent. Harmonisation of African Standards was recognised at the very beginning as a means of promoting not only trade among African countries but also enabling African enterprises to participate effectively in the global trading system. This still remains the core mandate of ARSO.