Parallel session D10: Inclusivity in Trade Facilitation: The role of NTFCs

23 May 2024 14:00h - 15:00h

Table of contents

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Full session report

Panel Highlights Challenges and Solutions for Inclusivity in Small-Scale Cross-Border Trade

The panel discussion delved into the complexities of small-scale cross-border trade (SSCBT), with a special focus on the role and challenges faced by women and vulnerable groups in this sector. Tadiwanashe Mutibura, a key speaker, highlighted the prevalence of women in SSCBT in Zimbabwe, noting that despite their significant contribution, these traders often operate without formal recognition or adequate support, which limits their ability to trade profitably.

A major issue identified was the lack of comprehensive data on SSCBT, which is necessary for creating informed policies and support systems. Traders encounter numerous obstacles, including legal issues, harassment, xenophobia, and arbitrary confiscation of goods. Economic instability, particularly the volatility of local currencies, further complicates their ability to maintain a stable income.

To address these challenges, the panel proposed several solutions, such as implementing transparent border scanning systems and establishing predictable customs charges. They also stressed the importance of education and professional support for SSCBT businesses, urging the privileged not to dismiss solutions that do not directly affect them.

Jeffrey Maganya from Oxfam emphasized the responsibility of governments to ensure legal protection and fair pricing for traders, advocating for trade policies that are grounded in human rights values. He highlighted Oxfam's initiatives to strengthen civil society, conduct research, and harmonize policies to support marginalized traders.

Gender-specific initiatives were also discussed. Ingrid Huapaya Puicon from Peru outlined her ministry's efforts to reduce gender disparities and promote the inclusion of women and SMEs in export initiatives. Naa Densua Aryeetey shared insights from Ghana, where a subcommittee on trade and gender was established to address women traders' issues, including the introduction of gender champions to assist women at borders.

The role of regional and international collaboration was underscored, with Houssem Gharbi from the Universal Postal Union discussing the postal sector's role in facilitating trade for SMEs and women. He presented initiatives like the Trade Post Project and the Postal Prosperity Zone, aimed at enhancing trade inclusion through postal networks.

The session concluded with a call for action on inclusivity in trade, emphasizing the need for practical solutions and the sharing of best practices across regions and countries. The moderator, Victoria Tuomisto, encouraged ongoing dialogue and collaboration to promote inclusivity in trade.

Key observations from the discussion included the recognition of the digital divide as a barrier to trade for many small-scale traders and the potential for technology to bridge this gap. The conversation also revealed the importance of understanding the lived experiences of traders to inform policy and decision-making effectively. The diverse backgrounds and experiences of the panellists provided a rich array of perspectives, underscoring the multifaceted nature of trade facilitation and the critical role of inclusivity in driving economic growth and development.

Session transcript

Tadiwanashe Mutibura:
cross-border trade is. It's abbreviated as SSCBT. By definition, it is a form of trade that is unrecorded in a country's official statistics and carried out by small businesses or individuals across a border's neighboring countries. Often, these micro-businesses are run by women, and on average, let's say in Zimbabwe, of the about 7,000 registered members, about 76% of them are women. Into the discussion itself, as stated by Victoria, yes, there has been an increase of small-scale cross-border trade, and how people look at it depends on their perspective. For some people, it's the collapse of the formal economy that's pushing people to now kind of hustle for themselves. For other people, it's a brand-new era filled with new opportunities. But however you choose to look at it, it must be noted that what I've noticed is there are not enough support structures for people to potentially benefit proportionally. What this means is at the root of everything, we first need to start with gathering enough data, because you'll find that despite there being a rise in small-scale cross-border traders, we don't know the actual figures. There hasn't been time taken to actually study them, probably because, going back in time, most of these traders are women, and it only started at a time where they could not be absorbed into formal economies before, and have just continuously gone under the radar, trading in small-scale. By way of example, some of these traders purchase import goods as their main source of income. So for those where small-scale cross-border trade is their main source, you'll find it's the flea market owners or shop owners. So despite having a formal business front, you'll find that in most cases, like most small-scale cross-border traders, the way that they're importing their goods is, in quotes, illegal, and I'll get into it, but that's because the formal channels at the moment don't fully recognize who they are, so they do not provide enough supporting mechanisms that make sense for the business models to continue profitably. I'll provide an example of those who typically trade as an additional source of income. We have a man who was interviewed by a paper by Logistics McHorney and Christian Rogerson, who says, I'm a primary school teacher, which is my profession. This man is 45 years old, but I work at a government school and the money that I make is not enough at all. Sometimes we don't even get salaries and our money comes in the den, ZWL. So this was a major issue if he got part of his currency in USD and part of it in local currency because it was so volatile. If he got paid, let's say, on the 20th, by the time he withdrew it, let's say, on the 22nd, the value of his salary has depreciated greatly. Or even if he took cash, the exchange rate that is given in one shop versus in the neighboring shop are completely different, which made it very difficult for them to earn livelihoods. And it's very sad because ideally, people who are formerly employed, particularly by government agencies, should not desperately seek additional source of income just to suffice their basic needs. But you'll find that's currently the case for most, especially civil servants. So to curb this, so I came up with, which will be discussed later in more depth, but I came up with a system where we should be able to empower these small-scale cross-border traders to complete the transactions by themselves. Because in addition to some of the challenges that they face, let's say, when they go to South Africa, there's a lot of xenophobic attack, there's a lot of physical and verbal harassment, or they have situations where they get their goods taken away without clear reasons, because it's very arbitrary. Like I said, there are not proper systems in place where someone can follow a process flow to take them in because they are taken as smugglers. which you'll find is the case sometimes, but they do it in desperation. And to explain some of the reasons that they go through the illegal channels is, sorry, we have a story from a lady who says, we are scared to ask questions or go to the offices and complain when drivers come to us for money or when officers make their demands. This is because when they come to us for money, it's an exchange for the goods that they're trying to purchase to make their livelihoods. Sometimes they're told that the goods that they're carrying are too many or they're illegal, so they are forced to make those payments in order to get their goods into the country. And we have another lady who stated that she's always paid customs each time she crossed into the country, but she's never been to the customs office. So with this new system, what we hope to do is empower them and have a more transparent and accountable system in place where now instead of having middlemen in the form of the bus drivers, who sometimes facilitate the customs payments, they are able to go there by themselves. So part of the idea is like a scanner. Think of like your typical airport scanner where you put your goods and ideally they'll be scanned. A major issue from the official side is that these people are smuggling goods. So if these goods are scanned by a computer system instead of being inspected by someone who might be biased, then there's more transparency. It can be checked. That's the first part. The second part is as the goods are being scanned, there's a way now of the trader being able to input the actual value of the goods with the promise of a predictable system that will help to calculate how much they have to pay. Because at the moment, people don't know how much they might be charged at the border. If it's a good day, everyone might be able to cross at a low cost. If it's a bad day, then they might be forced to pay up to like 40 to 70% of the value of the goods that they've just purchased. And the unfortunate part is not all of these officers are out to get them, but because the traders are avoiding all officers. then the helpful officers cannot necessarily talk to them. As confirmed, I had a conversation with one of our Zimbabwe revenue authorities who stated that it's very unfortunate that the traders don't know what they don't know, which results in them not being able to take advantage of the very few policies available to them, like the fact that under COMESA, any of their goods traded under 1,000 USD can cross duty free. So because they are avoiding any and all officials, even those officials who know and are supposed to be helping them are taking advantage of this lack of knowledge. So at the end of the day, not only do I hope to be able to collect more data on these people, increase traceability, accountability through the system, we also hope to have these people feel empowered in their line of business so that in future whenever policies are implemented, not only for the large retailers, small scale cross border traders who are providing the most basic needs to the most vulnerable communities are also heard and they have policies that empower their lines of businesses as well, sustainably, so that they not only get funds to provide for their basic needs, but they're alleviated from poverty and we're able to push those intra-African trade volumes and values. So that's the first part. Thank you.

Victoria Tuomisto:
Thank you very much to you for laying out actually a lot of the key issues of informal or small scale border trading. I mean one, how again volatile economic situations, inflation can push people who are already in the formal economy back or partly into informal economy, where as you've laid out, again the issues of taking advantage, not having the information, not having the digital tools that you are aiming to build can really circumvent the ways in which some of the issues that you mentioned of extra payments, payments would be made by these traders. Now I'd like to ask, because again in your role as a young, pioneer in finding this challenge that you have matched with a solution, how do you think young people should become involved in the solutions-finding process that the NTFCs are engaged with or the larger society when it comes to dealing with issues that go beyond just problems of crossing the border but of people's livelihoods and vulnerable groups?

Tadiwanashe Mutibura:
Okay, thank you for that. This is an interesting question because I can speak as a young person based on my experiences or I could speak as like a third party looking into how we can do better. So I'll just provide some information. The first thing, simply educating ourselves. By educating ourselves, I mean beyond the high-level discussions, by way of example, that we're exposed to at university. So you'll find I did case studies. That's where my love for trade came from, from an economics class, which I had to take for three years. But we did a lot of case studies. But it's after I left university and I started paying attention to what's happening that I got a better understanding of what all those stats, what all those case studies mean. What I mean is by the time that we read statistics or official articles and findings, they've in a way been stripped of stories and realities that these people go through. And there's nothing wrong with that because at the end of the day, they have to be objective so that we can provide proper solutions. But what happens is we end up just having another project. In a way, it stops being someone's lived reality and we stop having an appreciation of the fact that this is going to, it has to directly, positively impact someone's life on a day-to-day basis. It just ends up at the policy level. So that's the first part. We need to educate ourselves. The second part is simply support these businesses. It goes beyond purchasing from them. But let's say in our career spaces, like I am in banking. During our innovation session, I could simply suggest that we have more wallet products for SSCBTs, so that they're able to make cross-border payments from the wallet system, which I found has a lot of penetration in African markets, because then people don't have to carry a lot of cash on them, and in terms of connectivity, it's much better because they can rely on USSD instead of, let's say, internet connection. That's the second part. The third part is not to look down on potential solutions, because they don't affect us directly. So you'll find us young people, from what I've seen, those of us who are privileged, let's say, to have more exposure, we are gunning to leave. We're planning to leave and stay out. So you'll find that what I learned is those places we want to go to, those structures we want to go to, started because someone decided to stay. In literally one part of the world, someone decided to stay to build the next best thing and now all we want to do is to be associated with that. So whenever we see someone pioneering, trying to start up with a solution, and this is probably one of the things that are easier said than done, but I say it's one of the things that we need to support, because I like to think of these sessions as mustard seeds, that it might not work immediately, but if supported and on good soil, for someone else, it might produce the tree that they need at some point later in life, and we just need to have an appreciation of the fact that not all solutions, not everything that will work out, comes at micro speed, because I think in this digital environment that we live, we just want everything super quick, and we're not ready to really dig down deep, because after these presentations, after the speech, after the networking, we actually have to go home and do the work. So I think those would be my main points to young people, that be willing to take it down from upper surface level, from academia, down to theory. Thank you.

Victoria Tuomisto:
Thank you, Thadiwa. Already a lot of lessons I think we can take on board, I mean, just the power of education in, but also beyond the school classroom, but also the boardroom and the other rooms that where we make decisions based on data and facts, but actually what's the reality on the ground, like you said, can be put forward in such impactful ways. Now, second, we have our speaker from Oxfam International based in Africa, Mr. Jeffrey Maganya, who I believe you will have heard Thadiwa and be inspired and linking a lot of the work that you are doing with vulnerable groups in agricultural trade and beyond in improving their livelihoods. And I think the stories that Thadiwa has just shared are very much linked to the work that you do and we'll be very pleased to hear how you've approached that in your work. Please.

Jeffrey Maganya:
So, is this on?

Victoria Tuomisto:
Yes.

Jeffrey Maganya:
All right. So, great. Thank you very much. And thank you very much, Thadiwa. I represent Oxfam, but that's probably not as true as it should be. If you think of a child in Somalia who's impacted by trade, that's probably the voice that I'd like to bring about, or an older woman in Ghana, or probably a disabled young person from Senegal. But the people I'm talking about have actually not been fully mainstreamed into trade. They're still prosumers. They produce what they consume, and the little that remains, they're able to sell. And therefore, there is a little bit of trade that actually impacts them. Now, we are here talking about the supply chain. But maybe we should talk about the value chain. No, actually, the values chain. Because value chain and supply chain is a very, is a word that's used a lot in terms of what you'd consider adding value, financial value to what you do, but not working with the values around what you do. And I think that the value chain is a bit like a two-sided sword. So one side is a commercial interest, and the other side, which is what I really would like to talk about here, is human rights values around trade. If you think about traditionally, how prosumers operated, is they produced what they consumed, and that really is not enough to satisfy their everyday needs, and therefore trade comes in the middle. But as trade comes in the middle, buy low, sell high, and have very limited amount of regulation becomes the mantra. And so, this underlying mantra is really what affects a lot of these people that I'm talking about. And so the clash between commercial values at one hand, that is pushed a lot by private actors. So there's obviously the structured private sector, but there's also private actors. At the border, you probably do not have a big company, but you have. have a man who ensures that the old man who's selling whatever it is that they're producing crosses the border and goes the other side. So these private players are extremely important in this discussion that we're having. And so when you have, at the foundational level, these people that I'm talking about producing, they require fair prices, but also legal protection. Whether they're selling internally to themselves or they're selling across the border, there's a lot of legal problems that they face and pricing problems that they face. But also, when they're working with the middle person, they require labor rights protection. They require legal protection. They require consumer protection. They require that they're not part of environmental degradation. And that can happen a lot. And at the end of the chain, from the producer to the consumer, there's probably a good example is a child who's selling products in the other side of the border on the streets. And the product is probably being processed by a middle person. This is acquiescence to child labor. And there has to be less winking and winking and letting middle people get away with sexual abuse, with abuse of labor of children, even as we talk about the grand issues that we're talking about right here. So who is actually responsible for? for this, for ensuring that there is protection, this kind of protection we're talking about. It's not really the middle person. It's actually states, governments, who are the duty bearers, who have the duty to ensure that there's legal protection to people who are poor and vulnerable along the values chain that I'm talking about, not only value chain. And so, what then should be happening in order that most of these issues are dealt with? So first, I'm going to propose a process and not necessarily a result. And these processes are actually part of internationally agreed rules. Human rights principles are agreed by everybody. So the principle of participation is very important, that whatever discussion that we're having, whether it's policy development, policy interpretation, or policy implementation, the voices of these people who are poor and marginalized need to permeate our spaces and inform what decisions we're making. We have to ensure that there is no systemic discrimination against these people that we're talking about, because many times, discrimination can come in terms of language that's spoken, in terms of physical access. People will not be allowed to physically access certain spaces. We have to ensure that there is no discrimination. But the other two things are really important, again, for participation and non-discrimination. It's transparency and accountability. I mean, we're talking about some of this jargon, some of these issues we're talking about, and we are transparent to each other. We are accountable to each other, but we're not transparent and accountable to the people who we need to be talking to. So that's in the policy making. But in terms of practice, accountability has to come in terms of complaints, processes that are accessible to the people who are trying to represent. So there has to be mechanisms, simple mechanisms, that the administrative state can be held to account. And if you've been to a border in Africa, you probably know what the administrative state does in terms of arbitrariness. They can just decide you're not coming in. What do you do? You just have to plead with them until they let you in. You're not going to go to court. And so the administrative state in small borders make very arbitrary, non-transparent decisions. And people who are poor and marginalized and are affected by these issues don't actually have a space to complain. So what do we do as Oxfam? I'll go quickly around this. So one is strengthening CSO capacity. And CSO is two civil society, not necessarily NGOs, but people who come together as a group of citizens who want to lobby the elected citizens so that they're able to impact on their lives. We do research and have evidence-based advocacy. And finally, we try and act on harmonization of policies because poor rural people don't necessarily have structured lives where they're only talking about the technical issues. They talk about 360 degrees impact on whatever interventions happens in life. And so how do we ensure inclusive and sustainable chain of values? So one is increasing representations of civil societies in NTFCs, tailored initiatives to address specific challenges faced by. by marginalized groups and women of small scale traders and farmers, addressing specific challenges faced by women, for example, accessing finance, establishing accountability frameworks, as I said, to hold all stakeholders, including private sector, to account, and finally, improving digitalization. The digital world is emerging very quickly. And I suspect that the way the industrial era was driven through highways that was funded by states, the digital infrastructure has to be something the governments need to invest in, in order that everybody gets the benefits of it, a more digitalized world. Thank you very much.

Victoria Tuomisto:
Thank you very much, Jeffrey. And what really struck with me is the notion that you've put out, which is values-based, perhaps trade facilitation, on how do we ensure that those principles that we talk about, transparency, accountability, non-discrimination, are actually felt by the most vulnerable groups at the border. And the legal framework needs to be there, but also in practice, how do those committees and enforcers of rules at the borders actually address these issues. Thank you very much, Jeffrey. In the interest of time, I will pass over to our next speakers, who will be speaking specifically from the lens of issues faced by women, women traders, women officers. And here, I would like to introduce to you Ms. Ingrid Huapaya, who is the Trade Facilitation Coordinator at the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism of Peru, coordinating also within the NTFC. And she will speak to us a bit, if you could, on how specifically the Ministry of Trade and the NTFC specifically have addressed the way in which these issues are discussed and actioned on. at the NTFC, and how do you promote greater inclusivity also of small businesses headed by women in particular?

Ingrid Huapaya Puicon:
Thank you very much. My pleasure to be here. Thank you to the government of Barbados and to UNCTAD for this amazing opportunity to be here. The Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism, which presides over the National Committee of Trade Facilitation, is taking specific steps to reduce gender disparities in trade and encourage the inclusion of women and SMEs in initiatives aimed at increasing exports. We are introducing discussions on the role of women as government officials and trade operators. Also we discuss the border conditions they face and the challenges they encounter. In April of this year, we organized a panel discussion with the participation of UNCTAD where these topics were addressed. During this event, women who have played prominent roles in facilitating foreign trade in both the public and private sectors shared their experiences, highlighting their achievements, challenges overcome, and lessons learned. We are about also to initiate a study in collaboration with UNCTAD and HM Revenue and Customs of the United Kingdom, which will develop a diagnostic on the border situation and the issues women encounter in conducting operations in the border of Peru. This study will enable us to precisely identify the obstacles they face and develop effective strategies to overcome them. Additionally, as part of our efforts to facilitate operations, especially for SMEs, we are implementing a sanitary risk management system in our single window. We have established an institutional framework and are currently analyzing risk context while addressing risk through a risk profile. This tool, which use risk criteria, aims to identify, analyze, evaluate, and mitigate in existing risk across various foreign trade procedures in a timely and intelligent manner. It will become a valuable resource for SMEs, allowing them to save both time and money in their operations. Also, some specific programs that the Ministry are currently developing are our program Pisco para el Mundo, or Pisco for the World, recognizing the need to boost export of Pisco, our national drink. We have launched this project, which aims to promote and simplify the export management of Pisco by strengthening the relationship between public entities and business sector. Also, we have a project called Ella Exporta, or She Exports. This program provides capacity building in both technical and soft skills for leading business women, with the aim of integrating women entrepreneurs into international trade and reducing occupational gaps across different regions around the country. Also, we have another program called Programa de Apoyo a la Internacionalización, or Internationalization Support Program. This program promotes the internationalization of companies by providing non-fundable co-financing for projects of Peruvian companies to strengthen, promote, and accelerate their internationalization process. This program targets exporting companies and those with export potential nationwide, especially SMEs, and includes differentiated scores for companies led by women. As of today, 27% of the beneficiary companies of this program are led by women, meaning that more than 50% of the ownership of each company is held by women. In absolute terms, 89 out of a total of 331 beneficiary companies are led by women. Additionally, 42% of the workers in these companies are women. Also we have a commercial platform called Peru Marketplace, which has been integrated into our single window. The platform allows SMEs to showcase their products, connect with their foreign buyers and conduct transactions. Finally, another component of the single window is ePIMEX, an electronic platform that enables SMEs to manage and control their productive activities and documents related to foreign trade operations in an orderly manner. At last but not least, we also introduced some provisions related with women and SMEs in our free trade agreements, which we have right now like 22 free trade agreements.

Victoria Tuomisto:
All right, thank you very much Ingrid. That's a huge range of areas that you are tangibly working on at the Ministry and at the NTFC, both with regards to SMEs and women-led SMEs and again issues related to women traders at large. You had mentioned also about an initiative on data collection, right, and that being a challenge. Could you talk a little bit about how you're trying to overcome that issue and really pinpointing then the solutions to the right direction?

Ingrid Huapaya Puicon:
In fact, we don't have a nation diagnosis of the problematic women facing borders. We hope that the project we will carry out with UNCTAD provides us with specific and relevant information to better understand the barriers women face in trade. Based on this data, we will be able to implement measures to promote their greater inclusion offering trade operations. Furthermore, we also plan to continue in our nation, in our Committee of Trade Facilitation to establish spaces for discussion between private trade operator organizations and women traders in the national level. These associations like WISTAL International, like what happened in Peru is like women of maritime logistics sectors are getting together and they are creating associations related with these sectors. We were planning to work with them and also with trade operator associations, which can provide us valuable insights into the specific challenges women face in different sectors and regions. Additionally, we are constantly evaluating and adopting best practices that fit our reality, aiming to improve conditions for the incorporation of women in trade.

Victoria Tuomisto:
Thank you very much, Ingrid. On the last point of best practices, I would like to take that as a bridge to our next speaker, Ms. Naa Densua Aryeetey, who is in fact currently the Chair of the Trade and Gender Subcommittee of the Ghana National Trade Facilitation Committee, a dedicated structure to address issues relating to women trade. She's also the VP of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and a Global Advisor of the Women in Logistics and Transport Organization. So with all those hats and with your chairmanship, chairwomanship of the committee, Ms. Naa, if you could highlight a bit about how these issues have been addressed. been addressed through it, why it's advantageous to have a specific committee, and what has been your experience so far, challenges and lessons for the audience.

Naa Densua Aryeetey:
Thank you, thank you Victoria. Let me take this opportunity to thank UNCTAD for inviting me here, especially Pamela and Paul. Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be part of this panel and I'm glad to be here. We in Ghana, the National Trade Facilitation Committee under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, has over the years created or established subcommittees to work on various aspects of the trade facilitation. But in 2021, we decided to create a subcommittee on trade and gender. This was launched by the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry. This was because, first of all, an assessment was done of the NTFC, the membership, and in actual fact, at that time, I was part of the membership of the NTFC, and we're just a few women. The majority were men, and the discussion centered on TF measures, trade facilitation measures. Never did we ever discuss issues related to gender. Then the African Continental Free Trade Agreement talks about gender equality and goes on to specify protocols for both women and youth. So the ministry thought it appropriate to set up a trade and gender committee to specifically look at issues affecting women, and especially cross-border traders and small and medium-scale enterprises. So, this was set up, and in fact, with the cooperation and the work of our chairman, the chairman of the NTFC, who is here today, Mr. Chairman Yeboah, please, can you give us a wave? He actually supported the creation of this subcommittee to work with the women, and we had the terms of reference to come out with a mechanism to measure the women who do this cross-border trading, and then consult with them daily, women within the trading ecosystem, and also to reduce or eliminate non-tariff barriers that affect the women in their daily work. So, to help promote these women into leadership roles, to promote them to participate in trade, not just trade for subsistence, but trade into regional value chains and also international. That was one of the aims. The outcome being that we will mainstream gender into trade policies and make sure that NTFC members are very much aware of gender issues, and also to create an opportunity for continuous dialogue with the women, and to be able to understand their needs better and bridge the gap that seems to exist. Right now, the membership of this subcommittee is made up of women. Then the Ministry of Gender and Women and Youth Protection, and then we have the Ministry of Trade, and then we have other private sector organizations who are also involved. We have the public sector, especially the customs, is serving on that subcommittee. We have the standards authority serving on that committee and we have other public sector whose work impact on these women. So in 2022 we started work. How do we help these women in their challenges? We first, as I said, the terms of reference was to consult them, get their views and bring it on board. We realized that most of them were not aware of what benefits they were with the African continental free trade. What would they benefit as women and as traders? And for us in Africa and from Ghana, 60% of our women are in small trade businesses and they are the backbone of the economy. So it's very, very important to tackle issues concerning them. So we met with them, held their views and used some of them as part of the African continental free trade women's protocol that was being developed at that time. It was a very good interaction and we were able to solicit enough views from them. The second phase was to meet with customs and other border agencies to express the views and concerns of these women to them and how together we can solve some of their problems. And it's very interesting, we're able to identify gender champions who can assist these women anytime they reach the borders, especially cross border traders. It went well. We dealt with customs, immigration, standards authority, all these agencies at the border. And it was very, very good because we had their views and with the views from the women we could see where there was an issue. And so we started to work on these issues to address them. The third phase was to meet with the logistics providers, the truck drivers, the transporters, the freight forwarders, together with the customs, and together with the women. Together. So that it will not be like you are hearing the women, but you are not hearing logistic providers. So in a room like this, full of the logistics service providers and the rest, we dealt with certain issues that were just nothing serious that should worry the women. So sometimes customs is asking for an ID card. And we have what we call Ghana card. And the women are saying, we don't want to use our original ID card. Can we make a photocopy and just show it to you when we reach the borders? The customs is saying, no. For security reasons, we prefer to see the original card. So now explain to them why you need the original and not the photocopy. The issues were so not really big issues that you could not deal with immediately. So we dealt with that. Then subsequently, we took upon this identification of gender champions to help the women. And they were from the various agencies at the borders. And they were very happy. The women were very happy. In fact, they talked about it, that these gender champions will help them in filling their documents, their procedures. When they face a challenge, these gender champions can come over and assist. And they are all from the institutions. For example, customs. We have immigration. We have other agencies partaking in this. program, and we had a training session for them as well to understand. What we are trying to do now is to, in fact, not too long ago this year, we collaborated with the World Customs Organization and the GRE to bridge the gap between the customs and the treaties. In Ghana, for example, the GRE has established a gender equality and diversity team, so we collaborated with them, and we told them some of the fears and concerns of the women. How do you help them to relax and do business with you? We want there to be a good cooperation between the two of you, and World Customs Organization was there to give us the support and to give us their view on traders and customs. So that was a very good one this year, and we are planning that apart from going forward, apart from doing the border training for the individuals, we intend to do the gender champions for the organizations themselves, customs, immigration, the police, because they are involved in the transit corridors, you know, so we intend to do that. And we've been able to do some of these things because of assistance from development partners like the GIZ, USAID, even the World Bank, but we also have to think of sustainability. How do we sustain this thing going forward? The work involved is a lot, and we haven't reached anywhere at all, but we are seeing progress. I know that Ontar Jar Jar is one of the best practices to be copied, but there's more work to be done, and I believe that with time, in order to sustain this thing, we are planning that we'll come out with a small booklet to put some of these things down for future use. Thank you very much.

Victoria Tuomisto:
Thank you very much, Ms. Naa, and I believe everybody agrees that this is quite a remarkable example of how a positive snowfall effect happens when you have a committee, you have a champion, you have a sponsor, you have initiatives, you have more interest from partners, and now you are where you are and more plans ahead. So thank you very much for that example, and I'm sure there are probably questions for this room or outside the room for you on how you were able to accomplish that in further detail. Now, lastly, we have Mr. Houssem Gharbi, who has a very fitting title, if I may say. He's the expert in trade inclusion at the Universal Postal Union, who is turning 150 years old, by the way, this year, an established institution serving on across different matters. And if you could please speak, Mr. Houssem, on the issue of how you, specifically in working on e-commerce, a surging area of trade, and trading through postal networks, which is a particular form of, again, exchange of goods, what are the ways in which you are enhancing trade inclusion for women and SMEs in this space, which has been noted as a great opportunity for cross-border trade for these particular groups? Thank you.

Houssem Gharbi:
So first, I would like to thank UNCTAD, ITC, and the government of Barbados for the excellent organization and for inviting you to this important session. Today I want to talk about one of the important players in trade facilitation and e-commerce, so it's the postal sector. As you can overlook, the postal sector plays a crucial role in facilitating trade and the trade inclusion of SMEs, and especially those led by women. As you know, so the traditional shipping focus more on cargo, so large cargo, but for most businesses, especially for SMEs and those run by women, the challenge is more so the creation of trade volume. And this is where the postal sector steps in. So because of its extensive network and reach, I'll give you some data. So briefly, so the postal sector handled two-thirds of the cross-border parcel delivery, the B2C1. So referring to the last GPU trade facilitation survey, so we noted that 80% of member country believe that postal infrastructure can empower SMEs and women. In Brazil, and with the Exporta Facil, so project, we saw that more than 10,000 SMEs that had never previously exported were able to do so through the program, so Exporta Facil. And lastly, there is some study that have shown a direct link between the maturity of the country postal system and its economic resilience. So postal sector directly and indirectly contribute with about 7% to the GDP. So UPU has launched two main programs to enhance the trade inclusion of SMEs and women. The first one is called Trade Post Project. So with Trade Post Project, the objective is to simplify the export, import, and transit process for the trade inclusion of MSMEs through the postal network. So, to increase the trade inclusion and to raise also the operational capability of e-commerce for the postal operator, and to streamline the customs procedure for faster and more efficient trade. I give you some data and some statistics from Tunisia, for example. For Tunisia, for example, we noted that there is an increase of the number of simple export shipments by 112% between 2020 to 2021, and there was an increase of about 360% in the first half of 2022. With other UN agencies, especially the WTO, we are now working to develop a gender component for the trade post project, so it will provide some training, a specific program especially for women, entrepreneurs and the craftswomen. We are working also with the designated operator to have some tools to reach this target population in the rural area. The second pillar and the most important pillar for the trade post project is the creation of the regional corridor. For this one, we are now, in 2024, implementing the project in Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria. The idea here is to create a market for this category of MSMEs and women, and to give them first to attack the domestic market, and then to be prepared to do that in the regional level. So, we have also the second pillar. So, an important project for EPU is called PPZ, the Postal Prosperity Zone, and for that it's a big one, because it will be implemented in the free zone, so we need the involvement of the designated operator, the custom authority, and the big shippers, and it's like PPP concept, so we need to integrate also the giant e-commerce player to create some market for MSME through the postal network. That's the big concept and big idea. Finally, so in conclusion, we believe that achieving so strong regional integration is key to build a powerful trade bloc. So I think for this kind of discussion that we have this week, we need first this integration, economic integration, to make this vision a reality. The postal sector deserves a seat at the table with also the National Trade Facilitation Committee. We at EPU recommend this integration of the postal sector. By integrating postal representatives into the National Trade Facilitation Committee, countries can leverage their expertise to streamline custom procedures, boost e-commerce capability, and ensure MSME and women entrepreneurs have the tools that they need to thrive in the global marketplace. This collaborative approach will unlock the full potential of the postal sector, fostering regional trade growth and inclusive economic development.

Victoria Tuomisto:
Thank you very much, Mr. Houssem, and especially underlining again the complexity of the different types of actors that you are involved with by the nature of the work and type of commerce. But also what struck me was your ambition of establishing a regional trade corridor with a special focus on women and SMEs might, if I'm not mistaken, be the first in the world where such a special objective is given to establishing a corridor in that part of the world. With that, I would like to thank very much for all these perspectives shared by the panellists. I know that we started a bit late, so I will take a bit of liberty to maybe ask one, ask for the speakers to still stay here and have one question asked from the audience, a burning question, a good question that can be addressed by any of the speakers. If I may ask for the microphone to be handed to the lady here at the centre.

Audience:
It will be in French, so please take up your devices. Thank you very much. I would like to take this opportunity to say hello to everyone. This is the very first time that I have spoken since we started these forums. I would like to thank the government of Barbados for providing us with a warm welcome, and we would also like to thank CUNCET for this initiative. Indeed, the forum has been very interesting, rich in information. I am Mrs. Lucette Puekela, from the Congo Democratic Republic. I am a member of the National Committee on the Facilitation of Trade in my country. I don't really have any relevant questions, but I would like to refer to the presentation of Ms. Mutibura, the winner of the Kunset Prize, which I congratulate by the way. Ms. Mutibura made us understand that the initiative that you have put in place is really important, I have noted, for the promotion of women's empowerment. Can I confirm that you are Zimbabwe? Yes, that's right. I was going to say that in this context, Zimbabwe and the RDC are all members of the Committee of the Commission Region. In this context, I take the example of my country, perhaps it is not yet done in Zimbabwe, to encourage small trans-border trade in favor of women and mainly young people. The Commissioner has put in place a tool called, in abbreviation, RECOSS, the Simplified Trade Regime. The objective is to promote trans-border trade carried out by vulnerable people. We have put in place a $500 ceiling. With that, we have put in place a tracking structure. We call it BIC, the Business Information Office. That is, all the people concerned by this regime, when they cross the borders, go to the Business Information Office for assistance, because there are those who do not know how to write. They have difficulties to meet the staff of the state. And they have assistance in this case. This regime is really beneficial. We discussed it for a while. Some other countries said that the quota of 500 dollars was insignificant. It had to be brought back to 1,200, 2,200 dollars, 2,500 dollars. But in the case of my country, we said that the goal was to promote small businesses run by women. And for young people, the quota of 500 dollars had to be maintained. Because with this, there are facilities in the tariff framework. In other words, we have already put in place a tool called simplified tariffs. When they are in this regime, they do not apply the tariffs applied to importers. They have this tool. I don't know if in Zimbabwe, we do it mainly between the RDC and Zambia. We also do it with the country of the East, but with the security situation, we suspended on this side, especially on the side of Rwanda and Burundi. But on the side of Zambia, with Katanga, it is really effective. I would recommend this to the winner. If you approach the Secretary of Commerce, by the way, many Zimbabweans work there, it is to enrich your innovation. It will help the region to do more. Because when you contribute the electronic currency, it is really interesting. Secondly, I would like to address Mrs. Naa. In relation to your initiative, Mrs. Naa from Ghana. Yes, the experience that you have put in place to help women is really rich, but we would like to take advantage of it, because we still have these problems, to help women. For example, in this case, we have put in place a simplified rate, but to grant tax exemptions on the product imported by women is complicated. I don't know, maybe we could ask for an invitation so that we can have an exchange of experience in this direction. Thank you very much. I have bothered you, because since the person heard, a French language has been spoken. Thank you very much.

Victoria Tuomisto:
Thank you very much, Madam. Thank you very much, we are seeing already recommendations and solutions taking place in real time, and I recommend you to continue that exchange after this session. With that i would like to thank very much all the speakers, all the panelists and guests here in the room, I think one thing that we can take out of this session is that the time for being convinced is perhaps over, so it's time to move from conviction to action on inclusivity. Let's make that as our takeaway message from this one, rather than a longer summary. Thank you very much again, and I look forward to the next session.

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Audience

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HG

Houssem Gharbi

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Ingrid Huapaya Puicon

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Jeffrey Maganya

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Naa Densua Aryeetey

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Tadiwanashe Mutibura

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Victoria Tuomisto

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