The Associated Press | Thursday, May 17, 2007
Africa’s largest trade bloc in final stages of forming customs union, says official
NAIROBI, Kenya: Africa’s largest trade bloc is in the final stages of setting up a customs union after completing work on tariffs to charge on goods imported from outside the group, the organization’s top executive said Thursday.
Leaders of the 20-member Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa are expected next week to approve the final steps leading to the launch of a customs union by December 2008, said Erastus Mwencha, the organization’s secretary general, in a paid ad in Thursday’s Daily Nation.
Mwencha did not give details of the proposed tariffs on products from outside the bloc that will be known as the common external tariffs.
Members of the trade bloc, commonly known by its acronym COMESA, have been negotiating a customs union since 2005. COMESA has been a free trade area since October 2000 but only 13 of its 20 members have signed on to the free trade area agreement.
Leaders of the bloc will also discuss the group’s negotiations with the European Union on a series of trade deals called the economic partnership agreements that are set to be concluded by the year’s end in order to comply with World Trade Organization rules.
The economic partnership agreements are aimed at replacing the existing trade deal between the European Union and 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific nations that allows these countries to export a number of goods to Europe duty-free, among other things.
COMESA officials have been holding a series of technical meetings in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, since Friday in preparation for the two-day summit of heads of state starting next Tuesday. They have also hosted trade exhibitions and meetings of the bloc’s business leaders.
The 12 year-old COMESA, whose secretariat is based in Lusaka, Zambia, has a total population of 389 million and an estimated total gross domestic product of US$200 billion (€148 billion).
The value of trade within COMESA countries rose to US$6.3 billion in 2005, from US$4.5 billion in 2004, according to the Kenyan Trade and Industry Ministry.
COMESA’s members are Angola, Burundi, Comoros, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.