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African leaders resolve to harmonize regional blocs

Xinhua | May 24, 2007

African leaders resolve to harmonize regional blocs

African leaders meeting in Nairobi to discuss cross-border trade expansion ratified on Wednesday the establishment of a regional Customs Union for Eastern and Southern Africa and called for harmonization of regional blocs.

The leaders mandated Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to convene a joint summit of COMESA, the South Africa Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC) to discuss the harmonization of the cross-border trading system.

This would ease the pressure on the countries which belong to both COMESA and SADC. Global trading rules strictly stipulate that a country can only join one customs union.

In a communique issued at the end of the two-day 12th COMESA summit in Nairobi, the leaders agreed that the acceleration of integration of Africa could best be achieved through the adoption by all regional economic communities of convergence criteria under the coordination of the African Union.

The leaders noted that Africa needed to remove all trade barriers and work towards economic unity.

"Various countries should desist from imposing non-tariff barriers on trade to protect their economies because in the long term, these would erode the competitiveness of COMESA as a region," said Kibaki who chaired the session.

He said trade barriers could help in saving national economies, but these are only short-term measures which should be discouraged.

The summit which resolved to launch a unified Customs Union urged member states who had not joined the COMESA Free Trade Area (FTA) to do so before the launch of Customs Union in December next year.

The leaders directed that all the necessary technical work and implementation modalities on the common external tariff be finished before the customs union is launched on Dec. 8, 2008.

The summit noted with satisfaction the rapid and sustained growth in intra-COMESA trade in the last two years and commended member states for agreeing to remove remaining non-tariff barriers.

The leaders ratified the implementation of the COMESA Fund, which will receive all funds to help the region in adjusting to meet the challenges of global trade.

They noted that the COMESA fund was now in force and called upon member states yet to ratify the COMESA fund to do so in order to enable them to benefit from the regional development fund. COMESA Secretary-General Erastus Mwencha would become its Fund Manager.

The leaders also endorsed the creation of the COMAID as a branch of COMESA to receive aid for trade under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) being negotiated with the 25 European Union countries.

They welcomed the resumption of the World Trade Organization ( WTO) Doha development agenda negotiations earlier this year and reiterated that the negotiation process should be transparent, all-inclusive and open to all members.

They stressed that the outcome of the WTO ministerial declaration should meet the development expectations of developing and least developed countries including COMESA member states.

They urged member states to implement the COMESA trade and transit transport facilitation instruments so as to enhance movement of transit and cross border traffic.

They further agreed on the need for COMESA to develop a model agreement for railways concessioning within the COMESA region. This would see the building of a railway from Djibouti to Zambia to connect all the states with a railway system.

The summit commended member states, which had attained agricultural surplus during the 2007/2008 marketing season as a result of progressive policies and support programs.

The regional leaders commended the government of Uganda for deploying peacekeepers to Somalia and the government of Burundi in its readiness to deploy peacekeepers to join the peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

 source: People’s Daily