At its July 2016 summit in Kigali, Rwanda, the AU Assembly held a special retreat to consider new proposals intended to ensure that the AU “is financed in a predictable, sustainable, equitable and accountable manner with the full ownership by its Member States”.
The new funding proposal adopted by the Assembly reads as follows:
“To institute and implement a 0.2 percent Levy on all eligible imported goods into the Continent to finance the African Union Operational, Program and Peace Support Operations Budgets starting from the year 2017”. See here: http://www.au.int/en/sites/default/files/decisions/31274-assembly_au_dec_605-620_xxvii_e.pdf (p. 1.)
That is all there is in the Outcome document on this subject.
The origin of the goods on which the levy is to be imposed is clear: by using the language of “imported goods into the Continent”, it excludes goods imported into an African country from other African countries.
However, by qualifying the products on which the levy will be imposed as “all eligible goods”, the Decision (i) clearly suggests that the levy won’t apply to all goods coming into Africa; and (ii) has left to a future date the determination of which of these goods will be subject to the levy, and therefore “eligible”, and which ones won’t be.
Interestingly, the Decision does not provide any guidance on how this classification is to be done – e.g. will it adopt a positive list approach of goods to be “eligible” for the levy (and whatever is not included in the list to be exempted from it) or the other way round (i.e. a negative list approach in which goods not subject to the levy will be listed while all those not so listed will be subjected to the levy)? etc.
Whatever methodology is used, will it be guided by some general principles – e.g. exclude essential goods from the levy (such as food items, medicines, educational equipment, etc.) – or will it be left to each member state to decide? If the latter, will this be negotiated? etc.
Also, when it says “a 0.2 percent Levy”, 0.2 percent of what? Presumably of the import value of the product (e.g. the value determined according to the WTO customs valuation agreement)? What if a country is not a member of the WTO and follows a different methodology?
Then, will this proposal pass the test of WTO compatibility?
To start with the most obvious: what if the same or “like” product comes from another African country? MFN requires that WTO members may not apply tariffs on a product coming from one WTO member and not apply the same tariff on the same or like product when it originates in another WTO member. The only exception to this would be if the whole of Africa forms a free trade area (as the CFTA aims to become) or a customs union or some form of regional economic entity that can be justified as a south-south agreement as per the 1971 GATT Enabling Clause. At this moment, only the CFTA route looks viable; the fact that both the levy and the CFTA are meant to enter into force in 2017 might not be mere coincidence either, but of course I don’t know if this is indeed the case.
Beyond the MFN issue, what if an African country has already undertaken a zero tariff commitment at the WTO – i.e. the bound tariff level for the particular product is set at 0%? Any increase, even to 0.2%, would be in breach of GATT Art. II on schedules of commitments. Countries such as Mauritius that have gone in the Hong Kong direction of establishing a duty-free import regime may have a point here (and this might explain, at least in part, why Mauritius registered its reservations to the above AU Assembly Decision).
Finally, what if an African country has already concluded a bilateral/regional trading arrangement with a non-African country/ies in which it has undertaken to eliminate tariffs on “substantially all trade” as is required by WTO law? Will the introduction of a 0.2 % levy not put that country in breach of its bilateral/regional treaty obligations and, indirectly, of its WTO obligations (because chances are that such a bilateral/regional treaty has been reported to the WTO and justified under one or another of the exceptions mentioned above – GATT XXIV, Enabling Clause, GATS Art. V)? The Euro-Med agreements signed between AU member states in North Africa and the EU or the EPAs signed by some of the other African countries with the EU might easily encounter these challenges.
I suspect there will be many more issues to come here.
The question then is how to overcome any challenges that may come from other WTO members.
I doubt any country would take Africa to court (and, in any case, no case can be brought against Africa yet; it can only be brought against individual AU member states that are also members of the WTO because the AU does not have legal standing before the WTO).
But, if the proposed formula is really good enough for Africa to want to fight for it at the WTO, I think it can do so successfully through a politico-diplomatic route. I am thinking here of a waiver under Art. IX of the Marrakech Agreement as perhaps the most obvious route.