The World Bank and the Regional Multidisciplinary Centre of Excellence launch joint project aimed at supporting IOC and APEI countries for COVID-19 recovery

As many countries in Africa struggle with accessing key medical equipment and supplies to fight COVID-19, the World Bank and the Regional Multidisciplinary Centre of Excellence (RMCE) have launched a regional project to support Member States of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) and the Accelerated Program for Economic Integration (APEI) to access the necessary medical equipment and supplies through regional suppliers. More broadly, the programme will actively contribute to the region’s economic recovery efforts. Here is an edited version of the roundtable podcast held on 20 May 2020.

 

APEI Member Countries: Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles and Zambia

IOC Member Countries: Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion and Seychelles

Roundtable Participants:

·         Erik von Uexkull is World Bank Country Economist/Representative - Mauritius & Seychelles

·         Ali Mansoor is Chairman of the Regional Multidisciplinary Centre of Excellence

·         Prakash Hurry is Officer in Charge of the Regional Multidisciplinary Centre of Excellence

·         Paul Baker is the Chief Executive of International Economics Consulting Ltd and World Bank Consultant

·         Nashreen Edoobaccus is the Moderator of the Roundtable

What have been some of the gaps in obtaining COVID-19 supplies?

Erik von Uexkull: As a global development financier, the World Bank has accompanied member countries since the beginning of COVID-19 in helping to finance the health responses. That includes financing the purchase of personal protective equipment, of tests and other medical material that are needed in combating this pandemic. Very quickly, we realised that certain countries face difficulty to access medical supplies on their own due to the current crisis. So we are reaching out to suppliers on behalf of these governments to facilitate the contact-making and ensuring that these countries do access the supplies they need. This is a global effort in which we are supporting all our member countries, but we do have the flexibility and pragmatism in our ability to engage if a useful solution like this project is presented to us at a regional level, which is why we are delighted to be working on this current project with the Regional Multidisciplinary Centre of Excellence (RMCE) in the countries of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) and Accelerated Programme for Economic Integration (APEI). One of the interesting things about the region is that there is both demand and supply right here. So this is also an opportunity to support regional economic recovery by helping firms to start producing some of these critically needed goods and connecting them to the buyers.

How did this project come about?

Ali Mansoor: While recalling that the RMCE was set up to promote peer learning and support, in this time of crisis, it seemed appropriate to encourage knowledge-sharing to combat the disease. With regards to recovery, the different countries of the region have taken interesting measures both on the demand and supply side and sharing that experience can only help the region. By building on the contacts we already have and the momentum of past programmes like the APEI, we can develop regional value chains and a better regional approach and thus work actively towards recovery.

What are the key objectives and expected achievements of this project?

Paul Baker: The countries of the region face several different challenges, demand growing at an unprecedented rate, or restrictions imposed by countries that supply the products that are needed such that the region cannot access them anymore. The World Bank has come out with a comprehensive database which shows the difficulties in accessing some of these products. The final challenge is that the logistics transport corridors for international trade, in general, are not operating as smoothly and frequently as they were before. So this project is a collaborative effort to source locally or regionally to try and ensure that the supply chain is meeting the demand for the region. While the initial focus will be on testing equipment and personal protective equipment, the project will scale up and include more countries eventually as well as more products that are required in the fight against COVID-19.

Erik von Uexkull: Ultimately, this project is aimed at keeping populations within these countries safe, help shelter them from the health crisis but also to contribute to economic recovery by securing jobs. We hope to achieve this by working with governments and health providers, but the project is also aimed at the private sector, firms who are already producing or now interested in delivering goods that are relevant to the COVID-19 response. The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) is offering web-based learning classes for these firms to switch productions and with this project, we hope to support the firms to market their goods both within the region and the global market by connecting them to our global facilitated procurement efforts. 

How is the private sector going to be involved, and why should they actually be involved in this project?

Paul Baker: The private sector is critical to this project because we not only need the manufacturers and suppliers but every actor along the supply chain. We are also looking at gathering information and data from the transporters, the customs brokers and other actors of the supply chain to have a comprehensive database to track how long it would take goods to go from one point to another, under what conditions and assess the standards as well. We must also ensure that the supplies always meet the stringent standards for good manufacturing practices and processes, with regards to World Health Organisation (WHO), International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), Association Francaise de NOrmalisation (AFNOR) and others. We also need to ensure that the supply capacity can meet demands systematically. It will be a learning process for the countries, especially through RMCE’s well-established approach of peer learning through established partnerships between the countries.

How have the partnerships developed so far?

Prakash Hurry: We have been in permanent contact with the focal points in the participating countries since the beginning of this project. Both with regards to the supply and demand for medical supplies and concerning peer learning and knowledge sharing. And we shall be making more efforts on developing those partnerships so as to actively work towards the economic recovery of the region. We will also leverage the experience we had as RMCE in successfully implementing another World Bank-funded project regarding the Intra Africa Talent Mobility Programme, which used peer to peer learning from countries in the region to adopt best practice policies and regulations towards economic integration.

Why have the member States of the IOC and APEI explicitly been chosen?

Ali Mansoor: Although our mandate is for the African continent as a whole, we wanted to move quickly, and so the most logical step would be to work with countries which already have close connections. So this is a choice based on practical reasons, among which are connectivity, proximity and the institutional framework linking them through past programmes. However, it is accompanied by the intention that should the project be successful, it would be extended to other countries as well.

How to ensure that the measures taken and policies adopted by the different governments to face the COVID-19 crisis are in line with the objectives of this project?

Ali Mansoor: Mauritius has done some good work on easing trade facilitation measures, including getting rid of some of the charges and duties and simplifying the border processes. All countries in the region are working towards ensuring supplies for their population, and this aligns with our objectives. In the immediate period, we will be focusing on the matching of demand and supply, but we shall also engage in a permanent dialogue with and among the stakeholders so that countries can learn from each other both on containment of the pandemic and recovery.

Erik von Uexkull: If we look at previous global crises, economic or otherwise, there is the temptation for countries to resort to protective measures like export bans, tariffs on critical goods, etc. However, trade policies that are open and facilitate the flow of goods and services around the world can be part of the answer to COVID-19 and can help offset disruptions caused by the pandemic.

 

The World Bank-funded support to the Regional Multidisciplinary Centre (RMCE) aims to promote regional cooperation and a regional approach to building solutions for both the private and public sector in their response to COVID-19. This will be achieved through three particular channels:

1. Peer learning and support;

2. Production & procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) & other medical supplies; and

3. Production & procurement of COVID-19 testing. 

This particular intervention focuses on a short-term horizon in building up a regional database of potential suppliers and demanders of critical COVID-19 medical supplies, including for testing, estimated logistical arrangements needed, and delivery networks possible, and map the critical players in the region, from procurement and a delivery/production standpoint.

More project information can be found here: https://tradeanalytics.app/regional-response-covid-19

The Regional Multidisciplinary Centre of Excellence (RMCE) is a regional initiative driven by the Government of Mauritius, and developed in consultation with the EU and World Bank as well as regional blocs, namely Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), South African Development Community (SADC) and IOC member states.

The purpose of the RMCE is to build capacity to formulate and implement regional economic development strategy and policy within the countries of the region encompassing the COMESA, the East African Community (EAC), the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the Small States Network.

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