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Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Ghana on board: Do we now have a single customs authority in West Africa?

By Charles Djade, in Lomé

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Posted on June 16, 2023 12:43

W Africa The port of Lomé (Togo), managed by MSC and Bolloré, is thriving as a regional hub ©àprésent
The port of Lomé (Togo), managed by MSC and Bolloré, is thriving as a regional hub ©àprésent

To improve transit and increase revenue, nine countries in the sub-region have already adopted SIGMAT linking their customs systems.

Combating fraud, securing the transport of goods and saving time. This is the aim of the interconnected customs system that is gradually being introduced in West African countries.

Since 2019, Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger and Togo have adopted the Système interconnecté de gestion des marchandises en transit (SIGMAT), a mechanism promoted by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) with technical and financial support from the World Bank. Since 9 June, this has also been the case in Ghana, Senegal, Guinea and Mali.

SIGMAT is a tool for tracking goods from the customs office of departure to their destination, the initiative enables countries to better control the routes taken by lorries, ensure transport safety and automate procedures.

“SIGMAT allows data to be exchanged in real-time and helps to reduce the time it takes to pass through various customs posts on the [transport] corridors,” says Atta-Kakra Essien, the commissioner of customs and excise duties at Togo’s revenue office (OTR). For governments, the exchange of information helps to secure trade, combat fraud, control tax and customs revenues, and improve the reliability of statistical data.

Revolutionising transit

The West African customs administration meeting in Lomé from 5 to 9 June highlighted significant progress, such as the elimination of transit declarations at the border and the end of fraudulent dumping of goods.

“With SIGMAT, fraudsters can no longer make false transit or import declarations, which leads to an increase in revenue,” says Jean-Marc Benoit, regional coordinator of the automated customs system for the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). However, he concedes that “it is difficult to determine how much depends on the software, changes in the economic climate, or other customs reforms”.

The system has forced economic operators to declare all highly taxed products which, until now, were not subject to import declarations. It also enables customs operators to generate messages upon the departure and arrival of goods, thereby reducing hassles.

“An efficient transit system contributes enormously to facilitating the cross-border movement of goods and helps to integrate countries, particularly landlocked ones, into the global economy,” says Salifou Tiemtoré, director of the Union for Customs and Taxation at ECOWAS.

Intermediate solution

For participating governments and ECOWAS, the deployment of this interconnected system for the management of goods in transit is a promising alternative to ensure the region’s fluidity of cross-border trade while awaiting the “implementation of the community guarantee mechanism”, which is still at an embryonic stage. Eventually, it will enable customs duties to be paid only in the country of destination, in return for a deposit at the customs port of entry.

SIGMAT will be deployed at border posts in all member states by the end of this year, with the exception of Cape Verde, Tiemtoré says. This would also help interconnected countries to take full advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTC).

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