On the occasion of the International Customs Day, the World Customs Organisation (WCO) awarded CUTS International with a 'Certificate of Merit' for rendering exceptional service to the international customs community. In 2015, the theme of the International Customs Day was 'Coordinated Border Management: An inclusive approach for connecting stakeholders'. The Department of Revenue, Government of India recommended CUTS for this award in recognition of its contribution to the promotion of trust-based partnership with the Central Board of Excise and Customs and enhancing India's foreign trade.
One of the components of CUTSí past and ongoing work on regional integration in Eastern South Asia has been around the Border Haats (informal markets). CUTS work and advocacy has positively contributed to haats growing in numbers, i.e. from two to four now and many more that have already been approved and upcoming along the India-Bangladesh border. These haats have helped in dealing with security risks and served as a major platform for strengthening the people-to-people connect and trust among the two countries. Official statistics show that trade volumes in these haats have grown substantially over time, which is a good indicator of the possible economic benefits these haats have generated for the people on both sides.
Since the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) in Africa was initiated, CUTS Nairobi has been the first to enhance the level of engagement of the 'voiceless' in Eastern and Southern Africa and provide a solid engagement framework. Assessments in Ethiopia, Kenya and Zambia, representing three different Regional Economic Communities (RECs), revealed that engagement of marginalised groups in regional integration processes has been minimal in existing RECs and absolutely absent in the TFTA process. The project managed to bring apex bodies of the private sector and civil societies together with negotiators and trade policymakers to familiarise the former with TFTA issues. It also presents a proposed engagement framework that considers not only big businesses/urban CSOs but also voiceless stakeholders, such as women cross border traders and small scale farmers for incorporating their concerns in the implementation of the TTFA going forward.
CUTS Hanoi has been partnering with the Swedish Standards Institute (SIS) in implementing the SESA programme, successfully building the capacities of National Standards Bodies and other relevant stakeholders in the development and implementation of International Standards, which is expected to ease technical barriers to trade and contribute to sustainable development. In this programme, Hanoi participated in the development of the international standard ISO 13065 Sustainability criteria for bio-energy, published research papers, and distributed newsletters on standardisation and quality.
Under our landmark project 'Promoting Agriculture, Climate and Trade Linkages in the EAC' (PACT EAC), we have made 2015 the year of policy wins in East Africa. Our local partners' advocacy campaigns successfully influenced several policies towards a more coherent approach to climate change, food security and trade. For instance, the Ugandan government through its new National Trade Sector Development Plan has now undertaken to mainstream climate change into the national trade agenda, while harmonising positions in trade and climate change negotiations. We also successfully lobbied for the consideration of climate change issues in Rwanda's trade policy agenda, and contributed to a decision by the Tanzanian government to tackle rampant deforestation through stronger regulation of the charcoal trade sector in the revised Forest Policy. A second phase of the project is now starting, with a focus on agro-processing.
The CREW Project implemented by CUTS over the last three years has helped to empirically demonstrate the linkage between competition reforms and consumer/producer welfare in key sectors. Such evidence generated from the four project countries has helped initiate certain (pro-competitive) actions to help competition reform work for people in these countries and be better appreciated by policymakers. Some of these actions are as follows: (i) formation of an expert group to advise the Office for Competition in the Philippines on ways to promote competition in three sectors; (ii) establishment of a technical committee in Zambia to develop safety standards that were absent in privately run city buses; and (iii) development of a regulatory framework for Inter-city Bus Transport in the states of Gujarat & Madhya Pradesh (India).
The Government of the Republic of Zambia sought to improve access to information and communication technologies for all especially in rural areas through a multimillion dollar tower installation project. This project was initiated in rural chiefdom areas of the country. Motivated by this fact, CUTS Lusaka initiated performance audits of selected telecom towers and revealed that all towers put up in rural areas do not meet the technical and legal requirements, i.e. these fall short of meeting the 5km macro-coverage radius requirement. The findings raise questions how these installations are being monitored by Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority and saw the involvement of government, parliamentarians, local communities' consumers and various stakeholders among others, demanding for accountability and rectification.
CUTS has been actively engaging the Ghanaian Ministry of Trade & Industry (MoTI) on competition policy and law issues by regularly involving relevant officials in activities/initiatives undertaken by the organisation. As a result of this sustained engagement, CUTS Accra has been recognised formally as a knowledge partner for the MoTI on the issue of Competition and on Consumer Protection.
CUTS set up a virtual Procurement Observatory with the objective of helping the state government of Rajasthan, India to enhance its Public Procurement practices and outcomes. The Observatory developed a web portal, key performance indicators; analysed policies, Rajasthan Transparency in Public Procurement (RTPP) Act, 2012, RTPP rules; and measured actual implementation of all these in around eight departments, such as Public Works and Health. As a result, the nodal department is strengthened and working promptly; State Public Procurement Portal has been redesigned; regular trainings are being provided to officials; compliance of the concerned Act has increased; and procurement processes have been more transparent and accountable.
Women's participation in politics remained quite insignificant in villages even after six decades of self-rule. CUTS Centre for Human Development initiated a campaign for strengthening the political leadership of elected women representatives in local village councils/gram panchayats of Chittorgarh and Bhilwara districts of Rajasthan, India so as to address violence against women through a good governance framework. The campaign resulted in increased participation of women, with greater awareness across communities to their role as responsible citizens and voters during elections. Women contested in larger numbers both in reserved and unreserved categories, when compared to previous years.