COMESA Secretary General, Sindiso Ngwenya

Ministers from 26 African states have discussed a single free trade area with common infrastructure and ICT goals.

Ministers holding different portfolios related to integration from The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African development Community (SADC met in Lusaka last week under the Tripartite framework.

According to COMESA, the joint ministerial meeting follows a two-day meeting by Permanent Secretaries and Senior Officials.

COMESA, EAC and SADC comprise 26 member states that have been working since 2008 on a plan to harmonise their development and infrastructure programmes so that the combined population of 580 million people can integrate.

The meeting looked at proposals aimed at streamlining trading arrangements among the membership of the three Regional Economic Communities (RECs).

It also reviewed proposed solutions to the challenges of overlapping membership as regards trade and economic relations across the RECs. The meeting also discussed proposed modalities of establishing a single market by way of a grand Free Trade Areas-combining the Free Trade Areas of COMESA, EAC and SADC, and thus presenting a large market for promoting and attracting both cross-border and foreign direct investment.

The Tripartite region is looking at infrastructure in the energy and transport sectors, such as roads, rail, airports, ports, harbours and maritime facilities. Telecommunication infrastructure and associated facilities related to information communication technology (ICT) are also being looked at.

Zambia’ s President, Rupiah Banda who was represented by the Defence Minister  Kalombo Mwansa, stressed the importance of infrastructure in regional integration and revealed that the Tripartite framework is striving to bring together infrastructure developers and providers of resources for infrastructure development.

“ This partnership illustrates the efforts of the COMESA, EAC and SADC regions in ensuring that regional integration is relevant to economic development. It will seek to show how regional integration can meet the aspirations of the citizens of the region by lowering the cost of doing business through meeting their infrastructure needs” President Banda pointed out.

To ensure better and more beneficial integration, COMESA-EAC-SADC have agreed to establish a grand Free Trade Area encompassing the 26 countries. The bloc will also promote the rule of law as evidenced by the establishment of the despite settlement institutions: COMESA and the EAC have Courts of Justice while SADC has established a Tribunal.

The ministers said a limiting factor in the region has been the persistence of non-tariff barriers and poor infrastructure with which to move these goods, services and people.

Another limiting factor has been inadequate energy generating and transmission facilities to power the development efforts of the business community. Yet other factors include the poor roads and railway systems on which to transport goods, poor networks hindering communication, low capacities of ports and harbours which have led to serious congestion and delays in clearing goods.

The Chairman of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Task Force, who is also COMESA Secretary General, Sindiso Ngwenya, revealed that tremendous work has been done in the past three years towards having the grand Free Trade Area.

“ The Grand FTA encompasses 26 countries, which is about half of Africa, with a GDP of US$875 billion and is expected to have a GDP of over US$1 trillion by 2013. In short, this is a region of vast economic potential, which, with the necessary investment, and through the joining up of markets, can be converted into a prosperous region that will benefit all of its residents and citizens,” he said.

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