COMESA free trade area now consists of 15 of the 21 Member States and this will rise to 17 out of 21 when Tunisia and Somalia ratify the Treaty to complete their Membership to COMESA. COMESA’s global total exports rose by 16.1% from US$ 87 billion in 2016 to US$ 101 billion in 2017 while intra-COMESA exports rose by 3.7% from $8.8 billion in 2016 to $9.2 billion in 2017.
We are more than happy to welcome Somalia and Tunisia who were admitted to COMESA in July this year. The addition of these two Member States introduces new dynamism into the COMESA integration agenda and further expands the markets and areas of cooperation.
The COMESA Medium-Term Strategic Plan (MTSP) which was adopted at the 36th Council of Ministers meeting in Madagascar in October 2016, provides the policy guidance to the activities of the region for the five- year period to 2020. The Medium-Term Strategic Plan is due for a midterm review in order to assess the region’s performance with regard to the strategic objectives that we set for ourselves since 2015.
In order to enhance knowledge on regional integration, COMESA is establishing a Virtual University on Regional Integration which will offer post graduate level Masters degrees. The COMESA Virtual University on Regional Integration is hosted by Kenyatta University with the collaboration of 22 other Universities in the region.
Infrastructure is pivotal to enhancing economic development and poverty alleviation in the COMESA region. This notwithstanding, there is a huge infrastructure gap in the region accounted for by missing links and maintenance backlog. This gap needs to be narrowed by collective efforts in order to accelerate regional economic development for the benefit of the region. Innovative ways of raising resources such as PublicPrivate Partnerships for infrastructural development and maintenance are required to address this challenge as the traditional approach of relying on the public sector to provide the resources for infrastructure need to be supplemented.
Turning to agriculture, the African Flagship for addressing the critical issues in agriculture is the African Union’s Comprehensive African Agriculture Development programme (CAADP). After developing the national CAADP compacts and National Agricultural Investment Plans, the region is at an advanced stage of completing a Regional Agricultural Investment Plan. It is of paramount importance that the region gives due attention to the enhancement of agricultural production to achieve food self-sufficiency and there is need to link agriculture with industrial efforts so as to promote agro-industrial processes.
Regarding industry, it is sad to note that the region still relies on a very small range of products that are manufactured in the region; and even then, the level of value addition is very low. This has seen most economies exporting mainly raw materials, ores and metals while importing machinery, finished goods and other intermediate inputs. The undiversified nature of production in the region as well as the persistence of low value addition is a condition we should find ways of addressing. I am glad that in March 2015, during the COMESA Policy Organs Meeting and Summit, which were held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Member States adopted the COMESA Regional Industrial Policy (2015-2030) and directed the Secretariat to come up with its implementation strategy.
The COMESA Industrial Policy Implementation Strategy has been developed and focuses on 9 key priority areas, namely: Agro-processing, Energy, Textile and Garments, Leather and Leather Products, Mineral Beneficiation, Pharmaceuticals, Chemicals and Agro-Chemicals, Light Engineering and the Blue Economy. These focus areas have been identified as those that will have the greatest impact on the sustainable and inclusive economic growth for COMESA Member States.
The focus on industrialisation has been the missing link in regional integration and once our countries embark on an industrialisation path, we shall be able to not only create value, but also create jobs for the youth and thus improve the standards of living of our people. Zambia through its vision 2030 aspires to be a middle income country and industrialisation will greatly assist in this regard.
Integration has been given a new impetus on the African continent, with the launch of the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) in June 2015 and the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) in March 2018. We are getting closer to the realisation of the TFTA with 22 countries having signed the Agreement and 4 having ratified the Agreement. The enlargement of the market to cover 27 Member/Partner States of the Tripartite should further increase the attractiveness of the region for those market-seeking investments.
In as much as COMESA developed excellent instruments and policies, all aimed at improving integration and boosting intra-COMESA trade, we continue to face a range of challenges. The implementation of regional commitments and full-scale participation of all Member States in COMESA programmes is an area that still requires improvement.
Integration is a collective effort, and maximum benefits can only be realised when the majority of the Member States are fully engaged in the various activities currently in place. The low level of transposition of regional instruments by some Member States at national level has negatively affected the implementation of the various programmes.
A recent assessment undertaken by the Secretariat has shown low levels of implementation of regional commitments at national levels and suggested sustained sensitization and awareness campaigns of COMESA protocols and more importantly the intended benefits of regional integration. Awareness creation remains crucial for COMESA, ultimately trade and investment are spearheaded by the private sector and this is the audience we need to sensitize for them to have the utmost confidence and exploit the opportunities within the region.
One of COMESA’s key objectives is “to raise the standard of living of its people and to foster closer relations among its Member States”. While raising the standards of living is not an easy task to achieve, all the programmes and instruments being implemented by the Member States ultimately seek to improve the lives of ordinary citizens.
In pursuit of this overarching objective there is a need to revitalise the domestic industries and ensure that they tap into agricultural sector and to the existing regional market in order to contribute to national and regional development objectives. The potential for increased trade and growth exists, noting that the share of intra COMESA exports in goods of its total exports currently stands at 9%.
Council has the responsibility of providing policy guidance on issues of regional integration and in that regard, Council has made decisions that have assisted in providing policy certainty to both the Member States and the Secretariat. I look forward to you Honourable Ministers, as Coordinating Ministers for COMESA Affairs, to ensure that the decisions you make are implemented and thus contribute to the improvement of the standards of living for the people of COMESA.
These being the first Policy Organs meetings with the new Secretary General, Ms Chileshe Mpundu Kapwepwe, I would like to wish her great success as she steers the affairs of COMESA and to assure her our support in this endeavour.
I wish to appeal to all policy makers in respective countries, to review commitments to regional integration and ensure implementation so that the ideals and goals set out in the COMESA Treaty are met.
Her Honour Mrs. Inonge M. Wina
Vice President of The Republic of Zambia.