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The first ever diplomatic conference for Ambassadors and High Commissioners accredited to COMESA was hosted in Livingstone Zambia, 19 -20 May 2016. The conference which was hosted by the COMESA Competition Commission was aimed at deepening the working partnership with the Secretariat and its institutions given the strategic role the diplomats play in facilitating effective engagement with their governments in implementing regional integration programmes.

At the opening of the conference, the Chairman of the COMESA Competition Commission (CCC) Board Mr. Matthews Chikankheni said the conference would also help the commission to market itself to stakeholders so that its operations can be understood.

“As we embark on an expansion drive of our activities, we have found it necessary to engage directly with you, so as to inform you of our work, for you to effectively play your facilitatory role,” Mr Chikankheni said. “Our main focus is to drive the process of building competitive markets to increase intra-COMESA trade. This is an extremely important priority for all COMESA countries, especially in our efforts to attain sound industrial development.”

COMESA Secretary General Sindiso Ngwenya delivered the keynote address titled “Unveiling the COMESA Common Industrialization Policy 2015-2020.” He said COMESA industrialization process was constrained by institutional gaps and weak business environment.

Some of these include the lack of viable strategies, policies and systems of coherent laws and regulations to guide the industrialization efforts and inadequate institutional capabilities to provide support services to backstop the process of industrialization. He cited six constraints that have inhibited the growth in production, trade and investment of small and medium sized enterprises;

“Lack of quality infrastructure, unstable energy supplies, difficult access to affordable financial services, high tax rates on commercial profitability, corruption in public sector administration and political instability.”

In view of the above, the SG said that six basic principles have been developed to guide the implementation of the new industrialization policy. These include harmonizing labour standards and investment incentives to the community (COMESA), being able to compete in the global markets, integration, policy coordination and cooperation, encourage public private partnerships and institutional strengthening.

He added that the economic transformation of COMESA requires an integrated national and regional governance regime to champion and support the COMESA Industrial Policy covering 2015 to 2020.

A communique arising from the diplomats’ conference will be issued this week.