Lusaka, Tuesday 27 September 2016: Stakeholders began a two day consultative dialogue in Lusaka, Zambia to review a proposed instrument to facilitate movement of business persons using a COMESA Business visa.

The dialogue is between governments, the private sector, immigration experts and the diplomatic corps. It will look at what the COMESA Business Council (CBC) has drafted for possible adoption and subsequent use in the development of the COMESA Business Visa; a common multiple entry visa applicable for business persons in the region.

Currently, the frameworks for  movement of business persons, who are the engine of trade and regional integration, have not been facilitative enough to embrace them. Thus the proposed visa will facilitate their movement, enhance trade and deepen regional integration.

The Zambia Minister of Home Affairs Steven Kampyongo who opened the forum welcomed the initiative.

“Free movement of people is key to economic freedom because it makes it possible for economic actors to learn of opportunities which they strive to meet at the most competitive prices. This in turn improves the welfare of both producers and consumers,” he said.

COMESA has adopted two Protocols on the movement of persons namely the Protocol on the Gradual Relaxation and Eventual Elimination of Visas (Visa Protocol) and the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Services, Labour and Right of Establishment and Residence (Free Movement Protocol).

The business visa initiative is a follow-up to the recommendations that were presented to the COMESA Council of Ministers by the private sector in 2012 on the need to come up with an interim solution to facilitate the movement of business persons.

Minister Kampyongo said COMESA can only realize its promises of free trade and prosperity when there was free movement of economic actors including capital and labour.

In recent years, COMESA countries have made remarkable strides in the implementation of the Protocols such as issuing visas on arrival, issuing 90 day visas, and deployment of COMESA desks to facilitate COMESA citizens at ports of entry.

Speaking at the same event, Assistant Secretary General for COMESA Programmes Ambassador Dr Kipyego Cheluget said COMESA has always valued free movement of persons as one of the four fundamental economic freedoms and also as an essential part of the Common market. He observed that more needs to be done to ensure smooth flow and facilitation of business persons for enhanced trade facilitation.

“Indeed, the proposal for a common Business Visa will ease a lot of trade facilitation hurdles for the business community,” he said.

CBC Chief Executive Officer Sandra Uwera said the Movement of Persons Protocols had the least levels of implementation and ratification in the COMESA region.

Ms Uwera urged member States to review how the region has been implementing the movement of business persons framework and to consider more facilitative and progressive liberal dimensions, for substantial growth in trade to be achieved and real integration to take place.

Key recommendations arising from the dialogue will be streamlined into an advocacy position for the CBC. The proposed instrument will also be tabled for adoption before the COMESA policy organs and Summit meetings that will take place in Madagascar from 10 to 19 October 2016. If adopted, the COMESA Business Visa scheme could be operational in the next two years