Intra-COMESA trade in grains is set to rise following the launch of a road map that will address differences in standards and regulations that impede regional trade in maize.
The COMESA Mutual Recognition Framework (C-MRF) was launched in Kampala, Uganda, Thursday 17 December 2015. It is aimed at providing equivalence of analytical results and recognition of certificates of analysis issued by the laboratories of the participating countries. This will eliminate the need for multiple testing by both the exporting and importing country.
The C-MRF was developed by the COMESA Secretariat in partnership with six countries with significant maize trade. They comprise Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda,Zambia and Zimbabwe and will also pilot the Framework.
The key components of the MRF are common grading criteria, proficiency testing for Aflatoxin analysis and a risk-based sampling protocol.
At the launch, the Director of Agriculture and Industry in COMESA Mr. Thierry Mutombo Kalonji said the lack of mutual recognition of technical standards and conformity assessment (testing and certification) was a persistent non-tariff barrier.
“COMESA Secretariat initiated the framework in recognition of the fact that regulatory barriers are sometimes a result of varied technical capacities in the public and private sector entities across the region,” Mr Kalonji said.
“Without mutual recognition of standards and certificates of analysis, regulatory barriers persist; causing an unpredictable regulatory environment that comes at a high cost to traders and contributes to the growing informal trade, now estimated at over 80% in some countries.”
Further, countries with developed food control systems face difficulties trading with those with weak systems and hence staple foods crossing borders are subjected to conformity assessment procedures that come at a high cost to traders.
Presenting an overview of the framework, Dr Mukayi Musarurwa, a Standards Quality Assurance Consultant at the COMESA Secretariat said the initiative was meant to facilitate greater flexibility where regulatory frameworks differ.
“The C-MRF will be a central instrument in driving deeper levels of regulatory policy coordination and integration between Member States in COMESA. It will facilitate a more seamless trans-regional market and underscore MS’s’ objectives for a functional Free Trade Area and Common Market,” Dr Musaruwa said.
The C-MRF will be domesticated and implemented in the member states through Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) for conformity assessment. The MRAs, will entail Member States accepting each other’s conformity assessment and grading systems in order to avoid subjecting maize products to unnecessary & overlapping conformity assessment & grading procedures in both the exporting and importing country.
The launch was preceded by training a pool of facilitators from the public and private sector from the participating countries on sampling and grading which are key components in the implementation of the C-MRF.
Speaking at the launch, Chairperson of Operation Wealth Creation Gen. Salim Saleh who represented the Grain Council of Uganda, hailed the COMESA-led initiative as timely as the problems encountered in the market were common and needed collective actions given the common challenges faced in the market.
“We have great unexploited potential to feed the region but as you know, food safety and technical standards remain one of the bottlenecks that we grapple with on a daily basis,” Gen Saleh said.
Mr. Cyprian Batala, a Commissioner in the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, Uganda, officially launched the C-MRF.