THE Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) has expressed concern over the low intra-regional trade among its 21 members, which is estimated at seven percent.
The low performance has been attributed to inadequate participation of all member states in the Comesa Free Trade Area (TFA) and the challenges they face in the implementation of regional commitments.
Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi, Rwanda, Kenya, Egypt Rwanda and Djibouti are among the members of the bloc.
“Intra-regional trade among the 21-member countries of Comesa is estimated at seven percent. This situation is further aggravated by poor physical connectivity leading to high transportation costs, prevalence of non-tariff barriers, lack of information exchange about existing trading opportunities and prevalence of restrictive regulatory requirements in various markets,” said Comesa in a latest statement.
Speaking during the opening of the 36th Meeting of the Trade and Customs Committee virtual meeting last week, Comesa assistant secretary general in charge of programmes, Dr Kipyego Cheluget, said despite these challenges opportunities to leverage on the FTA abound.
“We need full application of the rules-based regime provided for under the Comesa Non-Tariff Barriers regulations and collective implementation of the commitments under the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement,” he said.
“We also need to accelerate the negotiations on trade in services and make meaningful commitments in sectors that impact trading conditions in the region in terms of competitiveness such as financial sector, telecommunication, tourism and transportation.”
Dr Cheluget said the region needs to drive more participation of the private sector in the integration process as business is the beneficiary of opportunities that are created by regional economic integration.
Among the issues deliberated upon during the three-day meeting, is a report on trade in services, which contains modalities to resume trade negotiations using virtual platforms. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, trade negotiations between countries took place in physical meetings.
In addition, the meeting also considered the development of customs training manuals on advance rulings, risk management and post clearance auditing, customs automation, amendments to the administrative provisions of the Comesa rules of origin and priorities identified for the Customs and Trade Facilitation Work Programme 2021-2023. In July this year, the Extra-ordinary Council of Ministers meeting directed the Comesa secretariat to establish an online platform to facilitate exchange of information about production and availability of essential products within member States.
The platform was set up but has not been operationalised awaiting member States to nominate their focal points that will manage content at the national level. So far, only eight member States out of 21 have submitted nominations.
“This is another opportunity to create a database on products, suppliers and regulatory requirements to address the information gap that has been identified as a constraint to the growth of intra-regional trade,” appealed Dr Cheluget.
To ensure the Comesa trading arrangements and innovative trade and transportation instruments are used as benchmarks to African economic integration, he spelt out priority issues that include getting all Comesa member States to participate in the bloc’s Free Trade Area, identifying and eliminating Non-Trade Barriers as well as implementing trade facilitation measures.