Monday, June 15, 2009

Comesa-SADC-EAC harmonisation going well

Africa's three main regional blocs namely the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC) are making significant progress in harmonising their projects to promote full regional integration.

COMESA Secretary-General, Sindiso Ngwenya, told the COMESA 13th Heads of State and Government Summit in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, that a lot of work had been covered by the three blocs since the historic Tripartite Summit in Kampala, Uganda last year.

At the Uganda Summit held in October 2008, member states agreed on a number of programmes to be undertaken by the three blocs comprising 26 countries to encourage regional cooperation.

And to date, the three blocs have since set up a Tripartite Task Force led by Ambassador Juma Mwapachu of Tanzania to spearhead all coordination processes with a number of meetings having already been held.

The recent meeting took place in March in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where recommendations such as identifying regional projects that need urgent funding, the setting up of a Tripartite Task Force website by year-end and the speedy completion of a Free Trade Area (FTA) study.

The next meeting of the taskforce is expected to take place in Nairobi, Kenya, at a yet to be announced date where the three blocs would review progress made so far in implementing some of the agreed programmes.

The major highlight of the regional economic communities is the ultimate creation of a FTA with a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about US$625 billion and a population of 527 million.

Ngwenya expressed hope that the dream would be realised soon as regional integration had enormous benefits for Africa such as boosting trade as well as allowing the region to negotiate global trade deals as a single bloc.

He said "like a journey of a thousand miles, regional integration starts with a single step".

"I am happy to inform the Summit that the three regional organisations have made remarkable progress in implementing the programmes decided by the COMESA-SADC-EAC Tripartite Summit last year," Ngwenya said.

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai concurred saying the three blocs had made tremendous progress on removing Non-Tariff Barriers amongst themselves.

He said the region should realise the strengths in cooperation as opposed to working in silos.

"We are gratified to note that Non-Tariff Barriers, which have the capacity to threaten the smooth flow of goods across our borders, are being reported and negotiated through a NTB monitoring and reporting system that also covers SADC and the EAC," Tsvangirai said.

He vowed that leaders from all member states would support and commit themselves towards the full regional cooperation.

"The COMESA FTA has fared well and our governments are now moving towards establishing a Customs Union and a FTA for the three regional economic communities in Africa."

Other areas of cooperation for the three blocs are in sectors such as infrastructure development, energy, investment promotion and air transport liberalisation.

The Tripartite Summit in Uganda last year, which took place exactly seven years after COMESA and SADC agreed to convene a joint meeting on the harmonisation of policies, is expected to gather again next year to assess its achievements and map the way forward for more regional integration.

The meeting by the three blocs is set to eventually address overlapping membership conflicts as the regional organisations plans to establish a single Customs Union in the future.

Technically, a country can only belong to one Customs Union. EAC already has a Customs Union while COMESA launched its own on June 7.

SADC, which established an FTA last August, plans to launch a Customs Union by 2010.

SADC has 15 members, COMESA 19 and EAC five. However, some member states from the three blocs also belong to two or all of the three regional economic communities.