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Overlapping membership to top REC’s summit agenda

The New Times, Kigali

Overlapping Membership to Top REC’s Summit Agenda

19 October 2008

By Berna Namata and Edmund Kagire, Kigali

The issue of overlapping membership will be a major area of focus during the first joint meeting of Heads of Government, of the three Regional Economic Communities (REC)’s, in Eastern and Southern Africa, namely the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The 26 Heads of Government will meet in the Ugandan capital of Kampala on Wednesday. They will discuss mechanisms for regional integration covering economic and trade liberalisation and trading arrangements among the three regional economic communities.

"As the three REC’s move into deeper integration, agreement on strategic and policy issues at the Tripartite Summit will help mitigate challenges of multiple membership currently being faced by some of the member states as well as pave way for accelerated inter-regional economic integration," Honourable Eriya Kategaya , Uganda’s First Deputy Prime Minister , also in charge of EAC Affairs, told journalists at a press briefing on the upcoming tripartite summit last Friday at the Uganda Media Centre.

According to Kategaya, one of the main challenges facing the three regions, COMESA, EAC and SADC in the implementation of their integration programmes is the overlapping membership.

"EAC is already a Customs Union but EAC shares four member states with COMESA and one SADC member. Five of SADC member states are members of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). COMESA and SADC have seven member states in common that are not part of a customs union but are all involved in preparing customs unions for both COMESA and SADC," he said.

"This has led to the recognition by the three REC’s of the need to initiate a process of coordination and harmonisation of their regional integration programmes. When we come together as one bloc with common positions during trade negotiations as a region, we are at an advantage because we become stronger with a bigger combined market and have more influence," he explained.

He also pointed out that overlapping membership is both costly and a waste of resources for the member states since they are mandated to pay membership fees.

The tripartite summit which kicked off on October 18 at the Speke Hotel Muyonyo, will end on October 22.

The Summit will also focus on cross cutting issues that affect the three REC’s. These include : Infrastructure development and connectivity, energy, railways, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in support of regional integration.

"Infrastructure development is a critical factor for the region’s economic growth and development. At the EAC level, the Heads of State have resolved to commit more resources for development of infrastructure. However, there is need to enhance the inter-connectivity with the other regions’ infrastructure to benefit from synergies, and this summit is expected to provide an impetus in this regard," Kategaya said.

The tripartite summit is expected to bring together 26 Heads of State, making up half of the African Union membership, who will consider recommendations of the EAC, COMESA, SADC minister’s meeting and make declarations on the way forward in terms of collective actions and strategies.

The three REC’s comprise of 26 countries with a combined population of 527 Million people , a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$624 billion and a GDP per capita averaging US$1,184.