Lusaka, Tuesday, 12, July 2016: The final review of the 2016-2020 COMESA Medium Term Strategic Plan began today with representatives of Member States making their final input into the plan.

The new strategy focuses on entrenching trade facilitation, market integration, infrastructure development, industrialization, institutional and regulatory policies, capacity development and resource mobilization.

At the opening of the review meeting, the Secretary General of COMESA Mr Sindiso Ngwenya told the representatives of member States to take ownership of the strategy to enable it contribute to structural transformation of their economies.

“Member States have a responsibility to domesticate the Strategic Plan through alignment with their National Development Plans (NDPs) and take on ownership of the implementation process,” Mr Ngwenya said.

He said the speed towards attaining regional integration agenda will come about when Member States and non-state actors fulfill their roles and responsibilities.

Consultative Approach

The development of the new strategy used a wide consultative approach with key stakeholders internally and externally. Consultations were undertaken at different levels including African Union Commission under Agenda 2063, Centre for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as with partner Regional Economic Communities. As a result, alignment has been established at the Global, Continental, Regional and subject specific levels.

The Secretary General described the new Strategic Plan as a useful tool to engage strategic partners in the pursuit of Regional Integration to marshal both financial and non-financial resources to build on successes and override the prevailing challenges.

“Member States should entrench ownership through funding of regional integration programmes in order to reverse reliance of external funding for regional integration programmes,” Mr Ngwenya stressed.

Currently, over 80% of the COMESA programmes are funded by cooperating partners making sustainability of programmes under such funding arrangements difficult.

Market Integration

On market integration, he said the challenges towards attaining the seamless flow of goods, free movement of persons, capital and other objectives are still daunting.

“Intra-regional trade remains low - below 10 percent, transaction costs are still very high and huge obstacles exist to the free movement of goods, capital, investments and people in form of non-tariff and technical barriers to trade,” he said.

He lamented that immigration laws and policies in many member countries are still harsh and discriminatory. Yet, the free movement of business persons remains a recurrent theme in policy discourse for the desired goal as stated in the strategy for achieving the Common Market.

With regard to industrialization, Mr Ngwenya observed that most COMESA Member States’ economies still rely on the production and exportation of a few primary products without any value addition.

“The need to transform our economies from an overreliance on primary commodities and low value added products will continue to drive COMESA’s planning and execution agenda,” he said.

Such pursuits, he observed should involve developing the necessary strengths and resilience, as well as the capacity to enhance competitiveness, innovation and growth through industrialization and Trade Facilitation.

After the current review, the 2016-2020 Strategic Plan will be presented to the Council of Ministers meeting in October this year for adoption and thereafter implementation.