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Tripartite summit for today

Daily Monitor, Uganda

Tripartite summit for today

By Alfred Nyongesa & Grace Matsiko, Kampala

22 October 2008

Leaders from 26 African countries meet in Kampala today at a summit called to harmonise and coordinate trade, customs and infrastructure development in the East and Southern African region.

The summit, bringing together leaders of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development and Coordination Community (Sadc) regional blocs, is expected to endorse decisions of the council of ministers, which called for the creation of a free trade area cutting across the three regional economic communities (Recs).

If created, this will be the largest regional economic bloc on the African continent. By press time, the new South African President, Mr Kgalema Motlanthe, also chair of Sadc, Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki, chairman Comesa and Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, heading the EAC, were expected in the country.

Other Presidents include Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Sudan’s Omar El Bashir and Dr Bingu Wa Mutharika of Malawi. The council of ministers, which closed on Tuesday, wants the leaders to commit the 26 member states to legalise free trade areas.

EAC Secretary General Juma Mwapachu told the council of ministers, in a speech read for him by his deputy Mr Julius Onen that they have already tackled issues of how best to work within the multiple memberships without problems.

Mr Mwapachu said the misery and suffering of Africans can only be solved through the Recs as a building bloc towards an African vision. “The three Recs felt the need to pioneer a historic summit involving the heads of state of the respective economic blocs and later build upon this kind of arrangement to cover other Recs,” he said.

Kenyan deputy prime minister and minister of trade Uhuru Kenyatta said the tripartite conference has come at the right time when international financial markets are tumbling. “It is important to acknowledge that the global financial crisis, soaring oil and food prices may lead to the weakening of our economies and deterioration of the global economic outlook,” Mr Kenyatta said.

He said the meeting has an exceptional opportunity to define a policy response to mitigate the intensification of this turmoil through greater regional cooperation. Daily Monitor has learnt that another summit of the EAC will start immediately after the Tripartite Summit and will examine the proposed report on the integration of Rwanda and Burundi into the EAC.

It will also look into the appointment of the judges of the East African Court of Justice to replace the president and the principal judge who will be retiring, among others. The ministers’ summit was preceded on Saturday by a joint meeting of permanent secretaries and senior officials from the three trading blocs.

Comesa Secretary General Stephen Karangizi said the areas identified as starting points for cooperation among the member states include infrastructure development for regional integration and trade.

Mr Karangizi said infrastructure development includes developing energy generation and transmission facilities, transport networks, telecommunication and ICT infrastructure.

The Chairperson of the EAC Coordination Committee, Mr Charles Gasana, said the three Recs need to rely more on trade rather than aid to fight poverty in Africa and rid the continent of its unhonourable tag as the continent of the world’s poor. He said trade cannot be promoted if countries set barriers that inhibit flow of goods among each other.

“We have instituted policies that curtail smooth flow of goods among each other and some members are even offering better terms of trading to developed countries. The question is; why can’t we offer our neighbours the same good terms?” Mr Gasana asked.

The major challenge to the final cooperation of the three blocs still lies in the multiple memberships of some countries to various trade blocs and fear by weak economies to be flooded with goods from larger economies like South Africa, Kenya and Egypt, which Sadc Deputy Executive Secretary General Samuel Caholo Joao, disagrees with.

“We should take it as win-win cooperation because we shall expand our markets and have internal competition that will improve our quality of goods and services,” Mr Joao said.

Mr Joao said the matter of multiple memberships to many trade blocs is not a heinous issue as long as the external common tariff is instituted and harmonised in the various customs unions that a country wishes to belong to.