The first ever joint COMESA, EAC and SADC summit opened in Kampala on Wednesday with a call by President Mwai Kibaki for regional leaders to be steadfast in supporting the creation of a bigger regional block that will ultimately culminate into an African Economic Community.
Noting that all regions of the world are moving fast towards economic integration, President Kibaki said Africa needs to move fast in putting in place the legal and institutional pillars that will facilitate progress towards a single market.
"For us in Africa, time is of essence to enable our region reap the benefits of deeper regional integration", the President noted.
President Kibaki said the tripartite summit heralds the beginning of an unprecedented process of great significance for both the region and the entire continent.
Noting that the continents founding fathers cherished the dream of regional economic integration, President Kibaki said it was high time the dream is brought to a higher level by laying a formidable foundation of an African Economic Community
President Kibaki who is the current chairman of COMESA noted that the new global challenges dictate that regional groupings come together to craft a trading block that reflects the new dynamics.
"I sincerely believe that this Tripartite Summit is the first important step towards institutionalizing cooperation between COMESA, East African Community and SADC", he said.
Noting that there are enormous benefits of a wider regional block in terms of welfare gains, increased efficiency in production, increased trade and investments, President Kibaki added that a large single market was a path towards poverty alleviation and employment creation.
He said trade has enormous potential to improve the welfare of Africans through various linkages with all sectors of the economy and called for infrastructural development that will address supply constraints that have caused African economies to be less competitive in the global arena.
And speaking at a State Banquet Tuesday night at the Entebbe State House, President Kibaki said it was incumbent on regional leaders to act to cushion the citizenry against the current global financial instability and high food and energy prices.
Said President Kibaki, "The Tripartite arrangement for our three Regional Economic Communities gives our region a rare opportunity to jointly address these and other challenges experienced by our people."
He noted that the current global trends will continue to threaten the livelihoods of the common people adding that the summit provides the leaders with a single path through which they can complement each other in providing the necessary assistance.
He noted that with a total membership of twenty six countries in the three trading blocks which is about half the African Union Membership, the decisions made at the summit are bound to have an effect to the rest of the continent.
The President expressed satisfaction that all COMESA member states have managed to attain a programme implementation level of 75 percent adding that the organization is seeking ways of securing its interests through meaningful engagements with other international players.
The Head of State noted that COMESA programmes were designed with flexibility in the event of extended regional interests adding that specialized institutions such as P.T.A Bank and others are already operating beyond COMESA boundaries.
"The successful stories of COMESA are a proof that integration programmes can be developed and implemented across the boundaries of the Regional Economic Communities for the benefit of the entire African continent", he said.
President Kibaki said the summit provides an opportunity to establish a cooperation frame work and create an environment in which millions of people can be lifted out of poverty.
The theme of the summit which is "deepening COMESA-EAC-SADC integration" is aimed at defining a policy response to mitigate the intensification of the global financial crisis and high food and energy prices.
The summit is also expected to come up with a roadmap for the establishment of the Pan Regional Free Trade Area which has a combined population of over 525 million people and a GDP in excess of US$ 600 billion.
The summit is attended by among others Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, Rwandan President Paul Kagame who is also the Chairman of East Africa Community, President Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa who is the Chairman of Southern Africa Development Cooperation, and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete who is the Chairman of the African Union.