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Kigali, June 26, 2017: Over 60 leading policy research think tanks, academia, and the private sector representatives from the 19 COMESA Member States are participating in the 3rd COMESA Annual Research Forum.

The theme for the Forum is: ‘Boosting Intra-African Trade through Regional Economic Communities: Perspectives from COMESA Regional Integration Programme’. It seeks to strengthen the participation of governments and key stakeholders in the regional integration agenda by sharing and discussing research findings.

In the next five days, the delegates will review and discuss 20 research papers that have been developed by researchers on key regional integration issues. These are market integration, investments, the Blue Economy, industrialization and economic infrastructure.

In February this year, COMESA invited experts to submit abstracts for research papers on the theme and more than 60 of them were received. Out of these, 24 were accepted and the authors invited to present the full papers at the Forum.

At the opening of the forum, COMESA Assistant Secretary General Dr Kipyego Cheluget told the delegates that the economic challenges facing Africa and COMESA in particular can be best addressed through evidence based policies.

“Research is essential in providing evidence to inform policy,” Dr Cheluget said. “I urge you to pay keen attention to the policy implications from each paper because their implementation will play a critical role in moving the regional integration agenda to a higher level.”

Underscoring the importance of research in regional integration, the Director General of Trade and Investments, Ministry of Trade, Industry and East African Affairs in Rwanda Mr. Robert Opirah cautioned that commitments made by Member States to implement regional integration programmes may be overtaken by events if they remain static.

“Regional integration is not a static process and therefore agreed commitments require evidence-based policy redirection in order to achieve the intended goal,” Mr. Opirah said.

He added that evidence-based decision necessitates undertaking empirical examination of the past and the current trends and at times forecasting futuristic occurrence all which involves policy-oriented research.

Mr. Opira concluded: “As technical experts I urge you to focus your discussions on evidence-based issues that would champion deeper regional integration to attain economic growth and development for our people. The golden rule is to think of posterity instead of being guided by short-term challenges and short-term gains.”

Aside from the presentation of research papers, the forum is intended to create a common understanding on the region’s research priorities for COMESA as the largest Regional Economic Community (REC) in Africa.

It has been observed that RECs have continued to individually pursue integration agenda both as a development and transformative strategy whose basis is free trade, customs unions and common market within their respective jurisdictions. As the building blocks of the African Union, a common understanding in the regional integration agenda is thus critical.

Among the research papers presented on the first day of the forum were; ‘Estimating Intra-COMESA Trade potential in Extractives: A Stochastic Frontier Approach’; ‘COMESA Market Integration: The Impact of Cost and Delays at Border Posts’, and ‘Staggering Utility Reform: A More Targeted Approach to Sectoral Political Economy Analysis. Does this Road go on forever? Modelling Sustainability of Infrastructure in Developing Countries’.