Land borders in the SADC region are critical zones for unlocking economic development, regional value chains and trade. It is at the borders that many issues related to regional integration intersect. In this light, this paper examines two case studies on the border regions around Beitbridge and Chirundu, which are critical links in the North– South Corridor and are vital in both regional and bilateral development initiatives.
This paper seeks to add to the conversation on transport linkages and the reasons for uncompetitive trade within SADC, as well as to consider some of the economic development opportunities at land borders in the region. It does so by capturing the research findings from two specific case studies rather than considering the broader macro-approach of policymakers in the region, which has been well documented in other work. It was initially thought that the lack of backhaul opportunities was one of the most pressing contributors to uncompetitive transport pricing in Southern Africa. However, border delays, and particularly standing time of trucks, have emerged as the largest contributor to transport costs in recent research. This paper seeks to understand political economy factors impacting on standing time based on information gathered through snapshots of operations at Beitbridge and Chirundu.
Some key findings currently contributing to standing time at both borders include: (i) poor signage and a lack of disaggregated lanes for offloading trucks, transit trucks, buses, commercial vehicles and passengers; (ii) a lack of risk management processes for scanning and inspections, leading to numerous inspections and duplication of efforts among border agencies; (iii) low levels of staffing among customs officials; (iv) Zambian clearing agents’ information gaps on customs procedures; and (v) driver behaviour, where drivers remain at the border despite completion of clearance. Presently, truckers experience poor working conditions in general, undermining driver well-being and contributing to slow movement along the corridor.
There is a complex relationship between trade facilitation and local border economies. Trade facilitation is essential to keep traffic flowing through border towns and maintain their viability; but very efficient border posts also reduce the need for firms specialising in helping traders overcome hurdles at borders. The research considered this relationship as part of a broad-based approach used to engage with different stakeholders. Economic development opportunities for border economies are intimately linked to the operation of border posts. Our research highlights some of the complex linkages to be considered.
The subsequent policy recommendations can be simplified into four key policy observations:
Coping strategies should accompany trade facilitation. With the current reality of thick borders,1 trade facilitation is often more complex than a policy or procedural implementation initiative. Therefore, coping strategies should be developed alongside trade facilitation measures, such as better communication mechanisms with key stakeholders and the provision of facilities at the border posts, especially for cross-border traders (mostly women) and people with disabilities. These include ablution facilities, information centres, and safe and strategic business centres. Formalising a SADC Simplified Trading Regime (STR) would ease trade for cross- border traders, creating more employment; increase incomes and food security; and reduce poverty levels among traders, who are predominantly women and youth.
Driver wellbeing must be a priority, especially if the intention is to keep drivers on the road and trucks moving so as not to contribute to unnecessary standing time. Another priority is maintaining the present wellness clinics to educate drivers on health, wellness and preventive measures against sexual transmitted infections.
Firms such as clearing agencies operating at borders require assistance to adapt and grow, through training and capacity building, to enable them to take advantage of the opportunities provided by trade facilitation measures through public–private coordination. This is to ensure that trade facilitation initiatives are in fact realised and not undermined owing to a disregard for stakeholder consultation prior to implementation.
New economic opportunities are also needed in border towns, where, in the long term, a strategic shift to independent growth that does not rely solely on the border posts needs to occur for the local economy to remain sustainable.
Authors: Anna Ngarachu and Christopher Wood and Heinrich Krogman and Elisha Tshuma and Dale Mudenda and Catherine Grant Makokera