Facilitating trade transparency and reforms in Mali
Businesses seeking to trade must first understand the cross-border procedures needed to export or import: which government agencies are involved, what documents must be obtained to prove compliance with tax and regulatory requirements, and so on. This can be particularly difficult for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), which have fewer resources to draw on than their larger competitors.
The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement helps traders by setting out shared global rules for cross-border procedures, backed by technical and financial assistance for developing countries that require support to implement the accord.
Making all documentary and other trade-related requirements easily available lowers compliance costs and times for businesses of all sizes. It allows companies to understand everything they need to do up front and plan accordingly, enabling them to jump through multiple hoops at once instead of dealing with each regulatory agency sequentially. But actually creating systems that provide such information is technically, administratively and financially demanding: procedures from regulatory agencies dealing with health and safety, agriculture, customs and technical product regulations need to be identified and organized accessibly.
In Mali, greater transparency and predictability for cross-border transactions has been a priority for the business community, especially MSMEs.
In response to a request from the Malian government, ITC, in partnership with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), has worked with authorities in the country to establish an online trade facilitation portal that displays the practical steps required for the import, export and transit of 15 key traded products, including mangoes, cotton and milk.
Designed to be easy for traders to use, the Mali Trade Portal lists, in sequential order, the formalities required to undertake cross-border shipments. Users can download key documents and access information about costs and times to export, import or transit a given product.
To identify the full panoply of procedures that applied to the goods in question, ITC worked with the Malian private sector, which as an additional benefit helped build lasting in-country analytical capacity.
As important as setting up the portal is ensuring that its contents are constantly updated. ITC worked with an existing multi-agency mechanism within the government to equip it to serve as a governance structure for the portal, with representatives from relevant ministries and agencies dealing with issues such as health and safety standards, customs inspections and agriculture. One goal of this work was to foster more effective inter-agency cooperation on helping Malian businesses trade.
The portal is designed to contribute to Mali’s compliance with WTO trade facilitation obligations. It also seeks to support domestic reform efforts by inviting private sector users to submit observations and suggest improvements that can inform public-private dialogue on regulatory changes.
ITC and UNCTAD provided capacity building and technical assistance on three levels: to the technical officials working on the portal on how to collect, systematically organize and digitize data; to the focal points from different regulatory agencies on how to update the portal; and to prospective private-sector users of the tool.
Similar to systems already in place in 23 countries, the Mali Trade Portal is playing an important role in increasing transparency around border-related regulations and procedures.
The portal is now entirely managed by an in-house team within the country’s Ministry of Commerce. A gender-balanced team of four technical experts is in charge of information gathering, led by a high-ranking official who oversees coordination with other agencies.
By shedding light on overlapping or especially complex procedures, the exercise of putting together the information contained in the portal has paved the way for government authorities to simplify and harmonize some cross-border procedures. For example, when documenting procedures to obtain certificate for insurance against damage or loss in transit, it became apparent that each insurers had different processes, raising transaction costs for traders. The procedures have now been harmonized.
The identification and removal of similarly overlapping procedures related to exporting mangoes and importing milk has reduced trading times by 20%. Mangoes no longer need to be re-weighed in a secure location prior to shipment and the number of times traders need to provide proof of identification has been reduced.
Over the next two years, ITC will work with Malian agencies to identify prospects for further simplifying trade-related regulations. Business feedback through the portal will indicate how information provided in the portal aligns with realities on the ground.
ITC is working to introduce similar systems in countries such as Tajikistan. Governments have expressed interest in broadening the system to include information about transport procedures and port operations.