Trade blocs to bolster intra-Africa trade, says Comesa The AfCTA is the continent’s newest trade bloc, which creates a single market of 1,3 billion people. — (File Picture)

Oliver Kazunga
Senior Business Reporter
THE Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) says implementation of regional and continental free trade regimes will position Africa into a formidable economic bloc that can exploits envisaged integration benefits.

Africa has a total of eight regional economic communities, which are recognised by the African Union, and among these are the Comesa (Common Market for Estern and Southern Africa), EAC (Eastern African Economic Community) and Sadc (Southern African Development Community), both of which Zimbabwe is a member.

The continent welcomed its newest economic bloc in January this year, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which brings the continent into a single market, the world’s largest such grouping with about 1,3 billion people.

At the recent 38th Comesa Trade and Customs Experts Meeting, the bloc’s assistant secretary general Dr Kipyego Cheluget said the implementation of regional and continental free trade area regimes would position the regional economic communities- Comesa, East African Economic Community (EAC) and Sadc into a formidable economic bloc to collectively exploit the envisaged benefits of Africa’s integration.

The meeting was attended by delegates from Zimbabwe, Burundi, Comoros, DR Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zambia.

He said although the ratification of the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) has not progressed as rapidly as originally envisaged, it remains a commendable effort at Regional Economic Communities (RECs) consolidation upon which the AfCFTA could build on.

“The existing RECs are the natural building blocks of the wider AfCFTA trading arrangement, and we need to double our efforts to complete the ratification process to make the Comesa, EAC and Sadc Tripartite FTA operational,” he said.

In this regard, Dr Cheluget proposed that the remaining processes under the TFTA should draw lessons from the AfCFTA, especially with regard to the strategies that were used to facilitate its rapid ratification and operationalisation.

The TFTA was launched in 2015 and despite achieving numerous milestones, its implementation has been held back by lack of sufficient number of ratifications by member/partner states.

Presently, 11 countries have ratified the agreement, three short of the required 14 to enable it to enter into force.

On the other hand, the AfCTFA achieved the required ratification threshold less than two years after it was launched.

The Comesa experts’ meeting focused on the review of the implementation of regional programmes and agreed on policy recommendations to enhance regional integration to be presented to the Comesa policy organs meetings, including the Council of Ministers meeting scheduled on December 1, 2022.

Among the key issues tabled to the meeting was the report on the Comesa trade in services, which covered negotiations, strategies to fast-track the negotiations and issues relating to tracking and monitoring the implementation of already agreed commitments.

“This committee may wish to make additional recommendations that will ensure that trade in services negotiations are expedited as the implementation of liberalisation commitments in services will enhance Comesa’s regional integration agenda,” Dr Cheluget said.

The report of the Heads of Customs was presented with the pertinent issues being the slow progress registered in the implementation of instruments expected to support implementation of the Comesa Customs Union.

An update was also provided on how post-Covid-19 customs administrations have deployed Information Communication Technology tools and automation to expedite clearance of goods traded within the region.

The initiatives include automation and use of non-intrusive inspection systems in lieu of physical inspections, the use of e-declaration processing and submission of electronic supporting documents, pre-arrival processing, and increased use of electronic cargo tracking systems to manage transit movements among others, all of which form the basis for the existing Comesa theme of “Building Resilience Through Strategic Digital Economic Integration.

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