(NSI News Source Info) VICTORIA FALLS - June 10, 2009: The 13th summit of Africa's largest trading group COMESA started in the Zimbabwean resort town of Victoria Falls on Sunday, with the long-anticipated official launch of a regional customs union topping the agenda. Madagascar's ousted President Mark Ravalomanana chats with Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir on the second day of the two-day African trade summit Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in Victoria Falls on June 8, 2009. The group, consisting of 19 member countries, has passed a resolution to intervene in Madagascar's political problems to 're-establish constitutional order'. COMESA consists of Burundi, Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
It will be the second crucial step taken by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in its process of economic integration after the 19-member bloc established the first free trading area in Africa in 2000 The important move had been confirmed again by COMESA secretary general Sindiso Ngwenya before the summit.
The COMESA chief announced that the customs union will be launched next Monday when the summit came to an end. "The Common Tariff Nomenclature and the Common Customs Documentation (CCD) are in place and what remains is the COMESA Regional Policy still under negotiation," he had said.The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa - promoting regional economic integration through trade and investment.With its 19 member states, population of over 389 million and annual import bill of around US$32 billion with an export bill of US$82 billion COMESA forms a major market place for both internal and external trading. Its area is impressive on the map of the African Continent covering a geographical area of 12 Million (sq km). Its achievements to date have been significant. See the comprehensive statistics At the opening ceremony of the summit, outgoing chairman of COMESA Authority, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki gave a report on progress made since the last summit in Nairobi in 2007, including the movement towards harmonization of policies between COMESA and the other economic blocs of the Southern African Development Community and the East African Community towards an African Economic Community. He said he was encouraged by the fact that intra-COMESA trade had 52 billion U.S. dollars in 2008, up from three billion dollars the previous year.
"As we collectively position ourselves to ushering the next milestone on our regional agenda, let us also remain fully aware of the broader agenda on the integration of the African continent. It is necessary that we focus on the bigger picture by strengthening our relations with other regional blocs," Kibaki said.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni thanked the Zimbabwean political leadership and people for coming up with an inclusive government and averting a potentially serious conflict. He also said COMESA should push for first world status and look at how it can take advantage of the current global economic crisis.
"We need to find how best we can survive and even how best we can take advantage of it," he said. Vice Chairman of African Union Commission Erastus Mwencha decried the fact that although Africa was represented at the last G20 summit, it was still to remove a stimulus package as pledged there. He stressed the need for Africa to consolidate its strategies with climate change, whose effects he said could affect the lives of its citizens.
The customs union aims to lift tariffs among member states while harmonizing barriers with third parties through the Common External Tariff, which the community's heads of state and government adopted in May 2007.
With the theme of "Consolidating Regional Integration through Value Addition, Trade and Food Security", the summit followed a meeting of the Council of Ministers from Tuesday to Thursday and talks of COMESA foreign ministers on Friday and Saturday. The summit, which had originally been set for last year, has been postponed twice.
The COMESA made a put-off decision first to allow the host country Zimbabwe to complete its electoral process which finally gave birth to the formation of an all inclusive government. The meeting was later postponed again as organizers took into account the need to begin the process of implementing the decisions of the summit of three trading blocs held in Uganda last year regarding the harmonization of Free Trade Areas and common external tariffs.
COMESA, headquartered in the Zambian capital of Lusaka, was formed in 1994 to replace its forerunner, the Preferential Trade Area. It enjoys an aggregate population of about 400 million and combined GDP of over 360 billion U.S. dollars.