EMELDA MWITWA, STEVEN MVULA, Gaborone
SOUTHERN African Development Community (SADC) executive secretary Stergomena Tax has called on member states to expedite elimination of import duty and other trade rules to allow for the operationalisation of the tripartite free trade area (TFTA).
And Botswana yesterday took over the chairmanship of the SADC council of ministers from Zimbabwe.
Speaking during the opening of the SADC council of ministers meeting here yesterday, Dr Tax said the launch of the TFTA involving the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC) and SADC (COMESA-EAC-SADC) last June was a big achievement.
She, however, said member states need to make deliberate efforts to make the TFTA work.
â€œFor the TFTA to be operationalised, we need to expeditiously finalise the pending issues that relate to elimination of import duties, trade remedies, and rules of origins, as well as finalisation of offers so as to ensure that the TFTA is smoothly up and running,â€ Dr Tax said.
The COMESA-EAC-SADC TFTA was launched last June in Egypt.
According to a SADC plan in its Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP), the TFTA is expected to pave way for a monetary union by 2016, and an economic union with a single currency by 2018.
In her opening remarks, Dr Tax urged the ministers to take stock of the implementation of council decisions and progress made in pursuit of the SADC regional integration agenda.
â€œI am glad to report that the decisions taken by this council in August 2013 and in April this year have been largely accomplished,â€ she said.
Citing the presidential election in Zambia last January and in other four countries, Dr Tax said the political and security situation in the region has remained stable.
â€œCredible elections were held in in the republics of Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, the Kingdom of Lesotho and the presidential by-election in Zambia.
â€œI wish to congratulate the governments and peoples of these member states for holding peaceful and credible elections, through which the will of the people was democratically expressed,â€ she said.
Dr Tax said the elections were held in accordance with SADC principles and guidelines governing democratic polls.
On other major strides in the last 12 months, she mentioned the formulation of the Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063, as well as finalisation of the RIDSP 2015-2015.
Dr Tax said these are crucial in setting the regionâ€™s long-term socio-economic landscape.
And Botswana has taken over the chairmanship of the SADC council of ministers from Zimbabwe.
Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Margaret Mwanakatwe witnessed the ceremony and later took part in the Council of Ministersâ€™ meeting.
This precedes the 35th SADC summit of heads of State and government that takes place here from August 17 to 19.
The theme of the summit is: â€œAccelerating industrialisation of SADC economies through transformation of natural endowments and improved human capitalâ€™.
Outgoing SADC council of ministers chairperson Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said it was a great honour for his country to lead the council of ministers for the past one year.
Mr Mumbengegwi, who is Zimbabweâ€™s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said SADC performed well over the past year and met most of its objectives.
He said there is need to operationalise the strategy to industrialise the SADC region.
â€œSADC needs to continue working tirelessly and remain united to ensure a prosperous region,â€ Mr Mumbengegwi said.
He also said there is also need for SADC to fund its own programmes to ensure certainty of its future.
â€œWhile we as SADC appreciate external support, there is need to fund ourselves as dependence is a weakness and we may open ourselves to manipulation from those against our interests as a regional body,â€ Mr Mumbengegwi said.
And in his acceptance note, Botswanaâ€™s Minister of Finance and Development Planning Kenneth Matambo said there is urgent need for SADC economies to broaden their industrial and economic bases to create employment and intensify the fight against poverty.
Mr Matambo said the adoption of the industrialisation strategy is a welcome move to catalyse regional co-operation and integration to ensure that SADC moves ahead in unison as a region.
He said the meeting by the Council of Ministers provides an opportunity to address strategic issues salient to the implementation of the strategy.
Mr Matambo said the need for adequate budgetary provisions for financing SADC activities and ensuring assumption of greater financial responsibility by member states is cardinal for the continued existence of SADC.
â€œLet us, therefore, ensure implementation of high impact activities, policies and strategies. The spirit of frontline states should invigorate the region into action that would make SADC emerge as the most purposeful, most powerful and most successful African regional economic community,â€ he said.
Mr Matambo said SADC needs to ensure major economic and technological transformation at national and regional levels to accelerate growth of the economies of its member states.
â€œIn executing our regional plans, cognisance should be given to people-centred development to ensure our unity in participating effectively in the African Union Agenda 2063,â€ Mr Matambo stated.
Mr Matambo said SADC member states must continue to look at ways and means of improving the standard of living for their peoples as well as improve efficiency in the use of the limited resources.
â€œLet us move with speed to effectively implement all the policy issues that are critical for the regionâ€™s growth and development.
â€œLet us, therefore, pursue our shared vision, the vision that should propel the SADC region to greater prosperity through deeper regional integration,â€ Mr Matambo said.
EMELDA MWITWA, STEVEN MVULA, Gaborone