Developments in Paperless Trade: Implications for Zambia's Small-Scale Cross-Border Traders

The Trade Facilitation Agreement is an important regulatory framework designed to promote efficiency and predictability in international trade, specifically with respect to the clearance, release and movement of goods. Information and communication technology is one of the means through which the Trade Facilitation Agreement streamlines and digitalises cross-border administrative procedures, thereby making trade essentially paperless and more efficient. While this is a good idea in principle, many small-scale traders of agricultural goods in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa cannot easily access and comprehend compliance information, including information on relevant sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements for the trade in agricultural products. Reasons for this phenomenon include the lack of relevant digital skills and language barriers given that, in most cases, requirements are presented in English and not in traders’ home language. In situations like this, it is justifiable that those Trade Facilitation Agreement provisions advocating the use of information and communication technology to transmit information and process transactions electronically should create additional responsibilities for traders, over and above those that are already prescribed in the SPS Agreement. Such provisions in the Trade Facilitation Agreement should be described as ‘SPS-Plus’ provisions. This policy insight examines the role of small-scale cross-border agricultural traders in Zambia, the challenges they face in the wake of digital advances and various ways in which they can be helped to meet SPS standards and generate more sustainable returns from their trading activities. Among the recommendations is the adoption of a centralised online system that follows a ‘single window’ approach aimed at simplifying information flows and the processing of documents. These efforts should go hand in hand with strategies to improve access to information and the digital skills of small-scale cross-border agricultural traders.