Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Big Five African Economic blocs agree to ease trade

By FRANCIS AYIEKO, The East African, September 28 2009

Five African regional organisations have agreed to jointly tackle issues that lead to high costs of doing business on the continent.

Meeting with the European Union in Lusaka, the organisations — the East African Community, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, Indian Ocean Commission, the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development and the African Union Commission — pledged to focus on building peace and security. They will also strive to enhance good governance, eliminate non-tariff barriers and develop efficient infrastructure.

This will reduce the costs of doing business by hastening the pace of regional integration and development across Africa, they said.

The meeting brought together the Inter-Regional Co-ordinating Committee (IRCC) of the Eastern and Southern Africa, the Indian Ocean Commission (ESA-IO) Region and the European Union to discuss how best ESA-IO countries can deliver on regional integration.

It was attended by high-level executives and senior government officials.

It was addressed by Zambia’s Vice-President George Kunda; Zambia’s Commerce, Trade and Industry Minister Felix Mutati; Kenya’s Trade Minister Amos Kimunya; Uganda’s Minister of State for Finance in charge of Privatisation Rukiya Chekamondo; Arvin Booleil, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Co-operation, Mauritius; and Erastus Mwencha, deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission.

While officially opening the meeting, Vice-President Kunda said ESA-IO had made good progress, citing the launching in June 2009 of the Comesa Customs Union and the EAC Customs Union launched in January 2005.

He also singled out the progress towards the establishment of the EAC Common Market by 2010 and the ongoing preparations for a larger Free Trade Area comprising membership of the EAC-SADC and Comesa regional economic communities.

The EAC-SADC-Comesa tripartite process, he said, would address the challenges of overlapping membership currently faced by African countries; and provide stimulus to private sector participation in development of the region.

“The private sector will benefit from harmonised rules and procedures and simplification of requirements and guidelines to trade in the region,” he said. He added that these developments would dovetail into overall effectiveness of regional integration.

The director-general of development, European Commission, Stefano Manservisi, said there was need to “give practical and concrete expression” to EU-ESA/IOC co-operation.

“We need roadmaps to set out what we will do to get results... We do not need further policy papers; now we need to implement programmes,” he said.

He said it called for great sacrifices in the short-term which would, however, pay off handsomely in the long-term.

He said the first and second stages of African integration had been achieved.

The first stage involved strengthening institutional frameworks of existing regional economic communities.

The second stage focused on co-ordination and harmonisation of activities, in particular, the gradual elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers.

Mr Mwencha said the stage was set for the third and most definitive phase — establishment of a continental Customs Union followed by a Common Market.

He, however, said the integration process of African countries was still facing a myriad of challenges, such as resource constraints, poor state of infrastructure, reluctance to cede nationalism and sovereignty for the common good, inadequate integration of regional and continental initiatives into national development plans and peace and security challenges.

But Juma Mwapachu, the EAC secretary-general, said regional integration in the ESA-IO region was experiencing positive transformation despite persistent problems such as non-tariff barriers to trade among partner states of the regional economic communities and infrastructure deficiencies.

Sindiso Ngwenya, the Comesa secretary-general, called for a system that would make aid effective by channelling it to specific regional integration needs.