It is further gratifying to note that the COMESA Common External Tariff (CET) has been harmonized with Common External Tariff of the East Africa Community. In one stroke, the COMESA and East Africa Community regions have established one Customs Territory. Consequently, there will be no need for countries that have membership in both COMESA and EAC to choose between the two organizations. The harmonization of the Common External Tariffs has fulfilled the decision of COMESA-EAC and SADC Tripartite Summit which was held in October 2008 in Uganda.
In consolidating and deepening the economic integration process, there is need to use the Customs Union as the platform of value added products. An examination of the current trade figures for intra-COMESA trade shows the US$15.2 Billion trade realized in 2008 mainly comprises of primary agriculture products, with a small percentage of trade in manufactured products.
Consequently, the primary focus as member States implement the Customs Union is to put into place policies and strategies for value addition. COMESA is fortunate in that value addition will be spearheaded by the following COMESA industry associations: The African Cotton and Textile Association (ACTIF); the Agro Processing Association, the East African Fine Coffee Association and the Leather Association. Through these COMESA established associations, it is envisaged that industry clusters within member States and between member States will take place and that inter and intra industry linkages will emerge. These sector industry clusters will result in increased intra-COMESA trade. It is also expected that trade-in-services will be stimulated and that such trade will be facilitated by the COMESA framework on trade-in-services that has been approved by the Council of Ministers.
It is against this background that the COMESA Secretariat will work with both the public and private sector and COMESA institutions to bring about the structural transformation of our economies from being primary commodity producers to producers of manufactured goods. The value addition of the region’s raw materials will directly benefit the producers and contribute to wealth creation within the region.
The social and economic transformation of COMESA member States would be incomplete without the modernization of agriculture which will result in improved agriculture productivity and incomes for our farmers. Whereas the COMESA region has vast agricultural land and abundant water, the region spends annually on average US$19 Billion on food imports. This situation must be reversed through not only increased Government expenditure in infrastructure to facilitate access to domestic, regional and international markets, but in supporting farmers to access and utilize appropriate technologies to mention but a few. In this regard, it would be advisable for each member State to establish agriculture centers of excellence. These centers would provide, among others, seeds, fertilizer, hire of equipment and extension support services.
Through collaborative efforts supported by cooperating partners, COMESA member States should in the next three (3) years achieve the following:
(i) Double agriculture productivity of staple crops;
(ii) Source food supplies from within the region;
(iii) Meet all food deficits through intra-COMESA trade. On the basis of the current imports of US$19 Billion this would bring the total volume of the intra-COMESA trade to US$34.2 Billion.
The ongoing implementation of the AU-NEPAD Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Programme (CAADP) will contribute to the realization of the goal of achieving food security and poverty reduction.
For the Customs Union to deliver a competitive economy the development of infrastructure namely railways, road, energy and telecommunications is imperative. The COMESA Secretariat is already working jointly with East Africa Community and the Southern African Development Community under the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite arrangement to prepare bankable projects and mobilize funding from multilateral development banks and bilateral partners. The Aid-for-Trade model that was used to mobilize US$2.7 Billion for the North-South Corridor is to be simultaneously implemented in the next 12 months in all the corridors of the Eastern and Southern Africa region.
Addressing food security and the provision of adequate infrastructure dictates that we adapt and mitigate climatic challenges. Climate change has unavoidable effect on food security in Africa, as increasing temperatures and shifting rain patterns reduce agricultural productivity and access to food. COMESA region must therefore intensify programmes that facilitate climate adaptation and mitigation, such as conservation of forests, sustainable agricultural practices and employ cleaner development production technologies.
Further, COMESA should spearhead the call for all African delegations to endorse and lobby for the Africa climate solution at the December 2009 Copenhagen post Kyoto climate negotiations. Africa should lobby for increased and more accessible global funding for climate adaptation and clean development mechanisms. Africa must optimize its full climate change mitigation and adaptation potential by ensuring that the reduction of green house gas emissions by agriculture, forests and sustainable land use (AFOLU) are included in the Post 2012 climate change regime. Just as in food security, Africa can provide a solution to the global climate challenges, if all African countries through the African Union Commission, endorse the African Climate Solution. If AFOLU is incorporated into the post Kyoto protocol, Africa could generate up to US$3 Billion per year in carbon trade.
I have no scintilla of doubt that COMESA as the largest regional economic block in Africa will rise up to the challenges and champion the race to economic transformation through food security, value addition, diversified economies, trade and overall economic integration for Africa-wide prosperity.
We are aiming for higher ground, and nothing less than victory will stop the COMESA Pride of Lions. With the launching of the COMESA Customs Union, businesses will find it easier to establish and operate in our region, companies will easily list on multiple stock exchanges, goods and services will be traded with ease and more confidence.
COMESA is poised yet again to achieve an important milestone which lays a firm foundation of the African Economic Community. Hence, the need to explore the possibility of sharing the best practices with other Regional Economic Communities.Let us all aim to make the COMESA Customs Union another wonder and envy of the world.
By Sindiso Ngwenya,
COMESA Secretary General.