Sunday, November 23, 2008

Comesa summit on Customs Union called off

Published on 13/11/2008, by Benson Kathuri and Agencies

The proposed regional Customs Union could be in jeopardy following the postponement of a crucial Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa) summit scheduled for next month.

The summit, which was to be attended by heads of state from the 19-member Comesa countries, was expected to meet in Zimbabwe to endorse the proposed union.

Sources confirmed that Zimbabwe had postponed the heads of states summit scheduled for early December due to political instability that has persisted in the southern African state.

"The Comesa secretariat has confirmed that Zimbabwe asked for the summit to be postponed to next year," said Dr Richard Sindiga, head of Comesa desk at the Trade ministry.

Sindiga, however, said the launch of the Customs Union scheduled for next month might continue if the council of ministers from the trade block approve it.

Under the Comesa protocol, the ministers who must meet at least once a year can make the decision.

The Customs Union was meant to enhance regional integration by adopting a common external tariff for goods imported into the region.

Zimbabwe Industry and International Trade minister Obert Mpofu told the state-run Herald newspaper the summit had been called off due to ongoing talks on the harmonisation of various trade pacts between SADC, the East African Community and Comesa.

Chairmanship

However, sources said the meeting was called off after mounting pressure from donors and some member states that want a quick political settlement between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsavingarai.

"Even if the country decided to go with the meeting no heads of state could attend due to fear of political backlash," said a source that declined to be named.

Some members are also opposed to President Mugabe assuming the chairmanship of the trade bloc from President Kibaki, who has held the position for almost two years now.

Sources revealed that some key donors had threatened to withdraw their funding should the leaders go ahead to endorse President Mugabe before an amicable political settlement.

However, the council of ministers must now meet in Lusaka by next month to chart the way forward and fix an alternative venue the summit that is the supreme decision-making organ.

"The council of ministers will decide on the Customs Union launch and probably seek another country to host the summit," said Sindiga.

The summit was initially scheduled for May but was moved to December 6 after a disputed election in which President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF lost to the opposition party, MDC.