Member's Area
Indian Ocean Rim Association
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Business & Trade Facilitation

IORA Workshop on Business and Trade Facilitation
Hennessy Park Hotel, Ebène, Mauritius
04-05 August 2014 

 Executive Summary

Introduction

Following discussions at the first Economic and Business Conference (EBC) held in Mauritius on 4-5th July 2013, it was suggested that business and trade facilitation be subject of further deliberation among members-states. The Government of Mauritius assumed leadership of this initiative. With the participation by government as well as private sector representatives from 12 member-states (Australia, Comoros, India, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Malaysia, Seychelles, South Africa and Tanzania), two dialogue partners (France and the USA), the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the World Bank, the first Business and Trade Facilitation Workshop was held in Mauritius on 4-5th August 2014.

The two-days long workshop addressed seven critical aspects of business and trade facilitation. Participants presented their country's/organisation's experiences, discussed with representatives of other member-states, and produced recommendations which address IORA members comprehensively.

Matters raised

Member States agreed that the World Bank's Doing Business Index was a good benchmark to measure the propensity of countries to carry out continuous reform in trade and business facilitation. Countries need to emulate the best frontier countries in order to improve their domestic practices. However, it was underlined that the index only looks at one subset of operational indicators (time, cost and number of documents) which countries tend to reform much quicker. The concerns evoked pertained to sustaining the appetite for continuous reform among IORA member countries, engaging non-state actors in working towards improved trade facilitation, and how to get country reform priorities right using the indicators. 

Since no global consensus could be reached on the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) at the last WTO meeting, participants agreed that the implementation of TFA could nevertheless be implemented by countries unilaterally.  The ITC pushed for the creation of a Business and Trade Facilitation Committee, with a mandate to implement the TFA at all WTO member-country level. It was agreed that given the private sector's central role in the implementation of business and trade facilitation, the private cohort needs to be trained. This would also allow an integration of informal cross border trade activities within the official structures. 

Discussions were pursued on the need for capacity-building among the private sector of IORA countries in order to allow inclusive growth. Countries related their individual experiences. Comoros evoked the potential creation of a Regional Chamber of Commerce and Investment Promotion agencies, and also that of a Regional Arbitration Centre. Participants agreed that governments should move away from the role of business regulator to that of a facilitator. The role of the private sector was highlighted through the mention of PPP approaches to the implementation of Single Window system. Mauritius shared its experience in the digitalization of company registration procedures and expressed willingness to assist member-states to share its practices. Malaysia evoked the comprehensive online electronic system called U-Customs, the port and trade focused community system called Port Klang Net, and the implementation of the ASEAN Single Window by 2015.The challenges identified during the discussion were: lack of capacity-building in usage of IT in trade facilitation among the LDCs of IORA, the integration of SMEs in the digitalization process, and ensuring disaster recovery measures. 

Peer to peer learning was emphasized. Cross border business and trade facilitation was brought up as one arena requiring harmonized IORA practices. It was pointed out that three of IORA member-states are among the top ten global leaders on trade facilitation (Singapore, UAE, Malaysia).  

Recommendations put forward: 

IORBF to consider pursuing an agenda for IOR region business and trade facilitation at the World Bank  by formulating a Business and Trade Facilitation Regional Implementation Plan;

IORA Secretariat to consider assisting in the capacity-building of member-states with reference to business and trade facilitation. Collaboration could be sought from the International Trade Centre and the Regional Multidisciplinary Centre of Excellence. IORA Member States could submit their requests for capacity building proposals on business and trade facilitation to the Secretariat. The Secretariat will compile the request and examine the possibility of implementation through IORA or external agencies where Member States could assist each other.

IORBF should establish an intra-private sector consensus in the region and have standing working groups within IORBF in order to educate private sector cohorts on policy positions prior to high level negotiations.

The need to conduct a feasibility study on the business travel card across IOR region, followed by the introduction of an IORA Business Travel Card on a pilot basis.A fast-track facility could also be considered;

IORA to consider the need to establish a platform or an IT interface in order to disseminate peer information without requiring the movement of people;

Member-states should indicate to IORA what the recommended step forward is in terms of capacity-building and peer-to-peer learning mechanisms. It was supported that specific measures be undertaken on: (i) customs procedures and documentation, (ii) registration of companies, and (iii) emulating the example of the Australian Trade Links as a platform for information sharing.

Members expressed interest in a Free Trade Area for IORA.  A paper on PTA  is under circulation and IORA members are encouraged to respond.