Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Broaden COMESA Free Trade Area: President Mugabe of Zimbabwe Tells Regional Summit in Swaziland

Broaden Comesa FTA: President

From Tumeliso Makhurane at LOZITHA PALACE, Swaziland
Zimbabwe Herald

PRESIDENT Mugabe has urged the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa to broaden its Free Trade Area to take on board other regional blocs and move away from exporting primary products in favour of processed goods.

In his keynote address as the outgoing Comesa Authority chairman, the President said it was important "to establish not just another FTA, but a grand and wider one covering half the continent of Africa".

He said Comesa was committed to the tripartite arrangements with the East African Community, and Sadc that were established in 2005 in line with Comesa’s vision of economic integration.

"Given our decade of experience in operating duty-free, quota-free trade regime in Comesa, and given the benefits that our member states have derived and witnessed under our own FTA over the last decade, we are keen that the tripartite FTA be established as soon as possible," he said.

He said it was encouraging that Comesa had moved from preferential arrangements to a fully developed FTA where trade was done free of duty and trade barriers among member countries with the resultant intra-Comesa trade rising over 500 percent from under US$3 billion in the year 2000 to over US$15 billion last year.

"It is perhaps worth noting and reiterating that, while we export commodities to the rest of the world and import finished goods, trade among ourselves under the Comesa FTA has mostly been in agro-processed and semi-manufactured products.

"Greater efforts still need to be deployed towards trade in commodities within the region, to move away from primary production to enhanced value addition to these commodities so that we create more job opportunities and effectively contribute to reducing poverty and concurrently raise incomes of our citizens," said President Mugabe.

The President said in agriculture and industrial development, positive strides had been made by such member countries as Malawi, Zambia, Sudan and Egypt to produce staple food such as maize, rice and sugar in excess of their countries’ needs.

The increased production levels, he said, had not only contributed to food security, self-sufficiency and increased commodity exports within and beyond the region but increased linkages with agro-processing and value addition across the region.

Closer interaction of the Comesa business opportunity had been facilitated through platforms such as the Comesa Business Forum.

"I am again delighted to note that we have streamlined customs procedures and practices culminating in the establishment of a one-stop border post at Chirundu on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border.

"Efforts are also underway to establish similar trade facilitation initiatives located at other borders, including at Kaumbalesa on the Zambia-DRC border, at Nakonde on the Tanzania-Zambia border, at Malaba on the Ugandan-Kenya border and at Mchinji on the Malawi-Zambia border, just to mention a few," President Mugabe said.

On infrastructural development, the Comesa Transport and Communications Strategy and Priority Investment Plan and the Comesa Infrastructure Fund had been set up to provide a base for mobilising investment resources for infrastructure and services to increase regional connectivity and networks integration in the Comesa region.

Cde Mugabe noted, however, that trade in services had lagged behind in trade liberalisation.

Services contribute between 15 percent and 65 percent of National Gross Domestic Products.

"Services such as tourism, telecommunications, finance, construction, transport, whether land, air or maritime, and educational and health services, can significantly raise economic activity and the well-being of our people."

President Mugabe said to support such trade initiatives, there was need to put in place sustainable funding arrangements with the proposed Common Market Levy being one of the examples.

He urged member states to consider such a levy to fund the operations of the Customs Union and related integration programmes.

"Being part of the competing global economy, we cannot wholly depend on co-operating partners to fund our integration arrangements. For our programmes to be sustainable, we need to negotiate specific user-friendly arrangements, be it with the EU under Economic Partnership Agreements, or the rest of the world under the World Trade Organisation," said the President.

On peace and security, the President said Comesa had made tremendous progress in its quest for peace and stability in the region with conflicts in central Africa and parts of the Horn of Africa having been resolved through peace processes. Focus was now on post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation efforts.

Though challenges still remained, efforts were being put in place to stem conflict through a policy organ of Ministers of Foreign Affairs who were taking a pro-active approach to prevention of violent conflicts. A Conflict Early Warning System and a Committee of Elders for preventive diplomacy had also been put in place.

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