Friday, October 24, 2008

Uganda: EAC, SADC, COMESA to rationalise trade relations

A tripartite summit of three economic blocs, dominated by countries south of the Sahara on Wednesday resolved to rationalise their trade relations by creating a Free Trade Area, as they design a roadmap towards a merger into one economic bloc.

At the end of their one-day summit, leaders of the 26 countries of East African Community (EAC), Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), also agreed to start working towards a merger into one economic bloc.

"A Tripartite Task Force is to be setup to develop a roadmap for the implementation of the merger for consideration within six months," the summit resolved in a communiqué read by EAC Secretary General, Juma Mwapachu.

The summit comprising of host Yoweri Museveni, Kenya's Mwai Kibaki, Kgalema Montlante of South Africa, Rwanda's Paul Kagame, the current EAC Chairman and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe further approved the expeditious establishment of a free trade area leading to a single customs union.

Cognizant of some member states not wholeheartedly embracing the move to merge, Kagame said there would be tools to cater for the least prepared and the economically weak like Somalia.

"Inevitably the integration will seemingly produce losers and winners initially, a consequence of a number of factors, including differences in productivity and economic strengths and individual economies," Kagame, who chaired the first tripartite summit noted.

"That is why successful integration processes incorporate compensation mechanism to provide the least prepared member states with lead time to execute mitigating strategies against initial shocks."

The outcome of the first tripartite summit of Common Markets of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and Southern Africa Development Cooperation (SADC) impact on the rest of Africa, said Kenyan President, Mwai Kibaki.

"Any decisions we make are bound to have an effect on the rest of the continent," Kibaki told the summit that opened in Kampala on Wednesday.

"Our meeting today heralds the start of an unprecedented process of great significance for both our region and the entire African continent.

"The spirit of this Tripartite Summit is something that could be replicated as we endeavour to broaden economic cooperation at the continental level," he told fellow heads of states who attend a summit.

President Museveni described the meeting as historic because the greatest cause of Africa's woes was disunity.

"The greatest source of weakness has been disunity and low-level of political and economic integration.

"That's why Africa suffered decades of slave trade, colonialism, neo-colonialism and currently marginalization."

Tracing the genesis of Africa's underdevelopment compared to Asia, Museveni lambasted traditional leaders at the dawn of colonialism for failure to unite and fend off a common enemy.

"African small kings and chiefs gave themselves high sounding titles but could not save Africa from colonialism.

"It's important that this generation doesn't repeat mistakes of the chiefs."

He explained that the desired integration of EAC, SADC and COMESA was a strategic tool that would closely link the people of Africa to global markets and insure their future.

Museveni also put his cause for a large population that will be realised upon the merger of 527 million people saying.

He cited China's populous economy that has attracted Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) to the tune of $327 trillion compared to Uganda's $2.9b with a population of less than 30 million an example of failed individualism only to be rescued in bigger trade integration.

"Uganda has liberalised more that China. We have liberalised most things. The only thing we have no liberalised is State House. China has remained communist; today, yesterday and I believe they will be tomorrow. But they have attracted more investments," Museveni noted.

He pointed out that even India with which Uganda suffered colonialism launched a satellite into space on Tuesday because it has developed, courtesy of a large market.

"Others (developed nations) are talking about being superior at sea, on land and in space. When I was a guerrilla I used to hide in forests but when someone is in space he can see you," Museveni said, sending the audience into deafening laughter.

"Other people are going to space, in (East) Africa we can hardly move from Uganda to the (sea) coast of Mombasa and vice versa."

Kampala - 22/10/2008