ESTHER MSETEKA, Lusaka
‘CELEBRATING 25 years of existence and service is a solemn time for introspection as an organisation, to re-discover ourselves, our values and forge ahead even more boldly.’
These are the words of Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Secretary General Chileshe Kapwepwe to member countries and stakeholders that have been supporting the regional economic bloc for the past 25 years.
This year’s celebrations are tied to the COMESA motto: ‘Growing together for prosperity.’
Ms Kapwepwe said for the past 25 years, COMESA has been devising innovative ways that are critical in promoting intra-trade among member countries.
She is positive that COMESA will continue taking a developmental approach to regional integration, with a focus on trade, investment, industrialisation and infrastructure.
“While taking cognisance of all relevant enablers for socio-economic transformation, COMESA continues to be a force for good in Africa and throughout the world.
“The only reason we exist as an organisation is to improve the living conditions of our people,” Ms Kapwepwe said.
COMESA was initially established as the Preferential Trade Area for Eastern and Southern Africa (PTA), with the framework of the Organisation of the African Unity’s (OAU) Lagos Plan of Action and the Final Act of Lagos in 1981.
PTA was later transformed into COMESA in 1994.
She explained that the transformation from PTA to COMESA was informed by the need to take advantage of a larger market under the Common Market beyond what PTA offered.
COMESA member states are Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, eSwatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The COMESA silver jubilee story will be incomplete if the following secretaries general that helped in shaping the regional economic bloc become a force to reckon with are not mentioned.
The first secretary general to head COMESA was Professor Bingu wa Mutharika from 1994 to 1997, Erastus Mwencha 1998 to 2008, Sindiso Ngwenya took over the mantle from 2008 to 2018 and now Chileshe Kapwepwe.
She is the first woman to hold the position.
Ms Kapwepwe is proud that COMESA is an evidence and rule-based organisation that has fervently contributed to economic growth of the region.
She said as a strong regional economic community (REC), COMESA will continue to set benchmarks, provide good practices and proactively support the African continental integration process.
“Every celebration must have a purpose. For us in COMESA, we are celebrating the positive impacts that our programmes have had in the lives of the people in our region since the organisation was established.
“One of our main achievements in comparison with other RECs is the increase in geographical size. COMESA constitutes a third of Africa and has consistently been attracting membership,” Ms Kapwepwe added.
She explained that over the years, the regional body has outgrown the eastern and southern Africa region and now covers part of northern and Central Africa.
Ms Kapwepwe said the Common Market is made up of 560 million people occupying a third of Africa with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of US$1 trillion.
She feels that the huge geographical space that COMESA occupies has made it more attractive to potential investors who are seeking for larger markets.
“Trade and investment are about numbers. With the launch of the Free Trade Area in 2000, the COMESA Free Trade Area now consists of 16 of the 21 member states. This means that trade among countries is taking place on a duty-free-quota-free basis,” Ms Kapwepwe said.
Equally, the elimination of non-tariff barriers that inhibit trade has been a success story as well with about 98 percent of all non-traffic barriers reported in the past 10 years being resolved.
She noted that COMESA has made many strides in member countries through increased cooperation and integration in all fields of development, particularly in trade, customs and monetary affairs.
Under the Tripartite Free Trade Area, whose launch and signing was led by COMESA in 2015, Ms Kapwepwe said most of the countries have signed the agreement with Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa ratifying it while others are in the process of doing so.
She said the tripartite brings together 28 countries in COMESA – East Africa Community and the Southern African Development Community – in one market.
Ms Kapwepwe announced that “the agreement takes a development approach to regional integration by including the free trade area, industrialisation and infrastructure, and is a low hanging-fruit, as all the instruments are ready for the implementation”.
She said the continental impetus to deeper and broader integration is irreversible, as demonstrated by a number of flagship programmes that have taken off, particularly the African Continental Free Trade Area and the Single African Air.
Other COMESA success stories are in the transport, information and communications technology, manufacturing, energy, gender, agriculture, environment and natural resources sectors.
Ms Kapwepwe is positive that programmes such as the introduction of digitised instruments will help to create new trade worth about US$12.3 billion while technical work on launching of a digital certification of origin and regional grade portal is now complete.
She said the COMESA Competition Commission, which is the youngest at only six years old, recently turned over US$77 billion in merger transactions.
Ms Kapwepwe explained that to support member countries in the implementation of regional integration programmes, COMESA has mobilised huge amounts of funding from a wide range of developmental partners, with the largest amount of €111 million received from the European Union (EU) under the regional integration support mechanism.
Last week, the EU and COMESA signed a €8.8 million contribution agreement to increase private sector participation in sustainable regional and global value chains through improved investment, business climate and enhanced competitiveness in the region.
Certainly, there is no doubt that Zambia has benefited from these integral factors by subscribing to the COMESA economic bloc that has played a positive role in the development of global trade resulting in economic integration.
COMESA, which has its secretariat in Lusaka, is a REC which Zambia is affiliated to.
In 2016, Zambia ranked number seven raking in US$409 million from foreign direct investments (FDIs) in COMESA.
Data shows that in 2015, COMESA inward FDIs accounted for about US$19.28 billion while in 2016, over US$17.70 billion was recorded, representing a decrease of eight percent compared to the previous year.
The top five recipients of FDIs in COMESA for 2016 included Egypt recording US$8.1 billion, Ethiopia with about US$3.20 billion, while DRC and Sudan were at over US$1.2 billion and US$1 billion respectively.
ESTHER MSETEKA, Lusaka