Malawi’s Banda urges COMESA leaders to match talk with deeds

The out-going Chairperson of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Malawian President Joyce Banda has urged leaders of member regional economic bloc  to make sure beyond the summits they  must deliver projects and programmes that have a tangible impact on people’s lives.

President Banda was speaking on Friday when she officially opened the 16th Summit of the COMESA Heads of State and Government at the Commonwealth Resort, Munyonyo, Kampala in Uganda.

She said there is complexity of implementing some of the strategies but said delays are avoidable such as those that have affected the implementation of the COMESA Custom Union, which has been extended by a further two years.

“To continue to drive our work forward, I believe we need to establish clear targets which we should achieve with respect to all programs. In the area of trade, it is high time that we agreed on a target of increasing through production and marketing our Intra COMESA trade from the current average of 10 percent in 2011 to 20 percent by 2017. In volume terms intra COMESA trade would increase from US$18.4 billion in 2011 to US$42 billion in 2017,” said Banda.

President of Malawi Joyce Banda hands over to President Yoweri Museveni.PHOTO: Oryema Kennedy
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She proposed targets for other sectors and sub sectors, such as infrastructure interconnectivity, which is essential for facilitating trade and investment and movement of goods and persons.

“The same targets should be established for the logistics and distribution chain. Once we have established those targets we must ensure we effectively monitor progress against them,” said the Malawi leader.

In her maiden speech, Banda proposed that COMESA must review “once again” some of the policies under the COMESA framework, to ensure they are not unnecessarily restricting intra-regional trade and the development and industrialization of economies.

“In this respect I am thinking particularly of the rules of origin requiring 35 percent local content in order to qualify for free trade area treatment. Whilst it is a laudable aim to encourage as much local content as possible, this must be applied in a pragmatic, rather than ideological way.

“It does not make economic sense for us to request our trading partners in the developed world to give us market access on the basis of liberal rules, such as, producing and exporting garments and textiles on the basis of third country fabric from outside our region, yet within the COMESA we cannot allow this trade to take place duty free and quota free.”

Banda then emphasized the importance of continued investment in basic infrastructure and agriculture, saying the structural adjustment programs of the 1990s have left us with a back-log of maintenance of infrastructure and missed development opportunities.

Hand over

President Banda  handed over the Comesa chairmanship to Uganda President Yoweri Museveni.

Museveni in his address said that African economies are too divided up, which undermines their profitability and countries cannot attract foreign direct investment. He said that there is need for integration of African countries through trading blocs

Museveni cited the China which despite being under communism with no multiparty democracy has attracted over US$1.2 trillion in foreign direct investment since 1978.

“China has overtaken France, Germany and Japan. With 1.3 billion people and land size of 3 million square miles, there is no political balkanization of the Chinese race. Yet the African race is Balkanized,” Museveni said.

The summit will close on Saturday, and is taking place under the theme, “enhancing intra-COMESA trade through micro, small and medium enterprise development.”

COMESA is a regional grouping of 19 African countries, with a potential market of over 400 million people and a combined GDP of $799 billion by 2010, making it one of the biggest African trading blocs.

The countries include Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, DR Congo, Burundi, Comoros, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Djibouti, Madagascar, Mauritius, Malawi, Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Seychelles and Swaziland.

The summit is attended by African leaders who include Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Mwai Kibaki (Kenya), Joyce Banda (Malawi), Dr. Ikiliou Dhoinine (Comoros) and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

Others include Prime Ministers Mizengo Kayanza Pinda (Tanzania), Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini (Swaziland) and Pierre Damien Habumuremyi (Rwanda). Vice presidents Dr. Gervais Rufykiri (Burundi) and Danny Foure (Seychelles), African Union chairperson Zuma Dlamini and the Egyptian minister of investment Osman Saleh.

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