Walking the talk on regional integration The port of Beira can open opportunities for Mozambique and its neighbours

Gibson Nyikadzino Diplomatic Telescope

Current statistics about Africa’s global trade contributions reveal a malnourished percentage and a continental problem that needs a complete rebirth on how African countries relate to each other in trade.

With the abundance in all the tremendous resources Africa has, its global contribution in trade is at two percent.

Diamonds, platinum, gold, lithium, fertile arable land, oil and many other resources have only made a paltry two percent trade in global trade.

Japan, without abundant natural resources, but augmenting its trade contributions through technology, in the first half of 2021 had trade receipts of US$683 billion.

In the same year, South Korea which has less resources than Africa boosted growth of new industries with exports hitting US$644,5 billion.

Sadly, at two percent global trade contributions for Africa, if the continent only manages to increase its trade to three percent, it will generate an annual income of US$70 billion, twice the amount it gets from “development assistance”.

The problem of Africa’s minute trade contributions despite its citizens living in the midst of plenty can be attributed, to some extent, low infrastructure development, depleted machinery, innovation and technological deficiencies in the age of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Because, among other things, Africa’s economic problems are a result of low intra-continent or intra-regional trade, calls for the improvement of available trade policies and infrastructure should be seriously taken to motivate countries to open their frontiers for more trade especially in the age of globalisation.

Such problems are a microcosm of the macrocosm.

Trade in Africa and sub-regionally has been stalled by growing mercantilist policies that include closure of borders, restricted movement of goods and services due to tariffs and lack of infrastructure connectivity including railway freight routes and a centralised system operated to guide intra-continental and intra-regional trade.

Barriers to intra-regional trade are what Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are thriving to eradicate firstly from a movement of goods point of view through the already functioning railway freight transport corridor connecting Francistown and port Techobanine in Mozambique via Bulawayo.

This tripartite arrangement to re-ignite the conscience of the region to think on the importance of opening and liberalising borders comes after a successful trade agreement by the three SADC countries to foster integration through signing of Bi-National Commissions (BNCs) among their leaders.

Autarky is outdated, improper

Regional integration has been more on the mouths of many people at a time there was no walk on it. For years, regional integration has been touted as a tonic for industrialisation and regional cohesion.

With mechanisms to push for regional trade integration already laid down through various protocols, walking the talk becomes the only alternative.

For SADC, its regional integration programmes have their progress anchored on removing barriers to trade through a Protocol on Trade encouraging trade liberalisation.

The SADC Protocol on Trade in Article 30 gives a provision that after 30 days of depositing the instruments of ratification, the protocol comes into force. Of the 16 SADC members, only 11 deposited the instrument in which Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are among those.

These countries have qualified the interests of their talk of regional integration by following existing trade protocols as governed by the SADC.

In this age, talking of economic independence by closing all opportunities of investments, trade, commerce and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is improper. That is autarky, it is an outdated and improper phenomenon.

Economic and strategic security integration

In Southern Africa, political stability has not been equally accompanied with economic stability. As the most peaceful and tranquil region, except a few pockets, militancy and belligerence are dying, this peace has not translated to meaningful strategic economic alliances.

The Botswana-Zimbabwe-Mozambique railway corridor deal should not only be seen in the economic sense alone. As it provides huge underpinnings to a strategic economic agreement, the arrangement also in-part forms a security co-operation relationship that is key to defend the objectives of the tripartite deal.

Generally, when countries build economic relations using financial routes, their security interests are also bound to be attached to those deals and protect them from harm.

In this case, trio is not only better off economically by allowing for the movement of coal from Botswana to Mozambique, but this should also pave way for the free movement of people or workers, particularly those in high- skilled sectors.

Countries that seek regional trade agreements also want to underpin strong domestic policy reforms by making them more secure.

This means if Botswana, Mozambique or Zimbabwe have domestic policy reforms in the railway route agreement, the three countries will have placed themselves on the binding masthead towards continental and international trade.

With such reforms and happening in the context of this rail agreement, reversal of the tripartite deal by any country means all domestic policy reforms become more difficult to implement. All measures to understand the trade partnership between Zimbabwe and her neighbour are espoused in the idea to giving more security to access larger opportunities in terms of investment attraction.

If Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe do things right as they are pointing, more areas for regional integration will open to fostering trade activities in the region.

Landlocked yet land-linked

Most landlocked economies are affected by constraints that come because of their dependence on coastal neighbours to access the ocean and the absence of alternative routes leading to weak economic infrastructure.

Lack of access to the sea and remoteness are some geographical factors that put landlocked developing countries at a disadvantage when talking about issues of development.

Botswana and Zimbabwe are landlocked economies that both, however, developed a co-operative agreement with coastal Mozambique to ensure their goods reach the port. The sea plays a key strategic and economic role in economic development.

While being landlocked, the land-linked Zimbabwe and Botswana have, however, made use of the rail infrastructure to establish a transit corridor to Mozambique which can also be used to bargain for future concessions.

The strength of the Botswana and Zimbabwe as land-linked countries is their ability to develop a trade policy that gives them a window to access markets of other countries via the Mozambican port.

Improving the perspective for regional trade and investment in Southern Africa is not only a good practice for nations, but its benefits can also cascade to the citizens who can enjoy economic development and stability in the region. The economic objective of the Botswana-Mozambique-Zimbabwe tripartite agreement is to have trade liberalisation and reduce any existing barriers to trade.

As a major development in international and regional trade, economic co-operation helps the facilitation of further exchanges among people of a particular region.

This deliberate agreement should be seen as a building block to achieve not only regional solidarity, but prosperity and unity.

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