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Lusaka, Friday, November 3, 2017: The need to embrace the digital technology in the implementation of regional integration programmes was in focus as the Comesa council of ministers meeting got underway in Lusaka, Zambia.

Speakers that included the Vice President of Zambia Her Honour Mrs Inonge Wina acknowledged that globally, countries are increasingly trading with each other through electronic platforms. Comesa States had therefore no option but to embrace the ICT in all regional integration programmes.

To respond to the changing trends, Comesa has this year adopted the theme; "COMESA - Towards digital economic integration" to entrench information communication technologies in trade facilitation programmes. Already a number of trade facilitation applications have been developed  to help in trade facilitation.

These include the Comesa Virtual Trade Facilitation System, an online platform for trade facilitation instruments and a regional customs bond; Regional Customs Guarantee Scheme. An electronic Certificate of Origin (of goods for export) and a digital Free Trade Area Application that will incorporate e-Commerce, e-Legislation and e-Logistics are also being developed.

The Secretary General of Comesa Sindiso Ngwenya told the Ministers that the organization has developed a new mobile Application to be used by cross border traders in the region which will be linked the COMESA Centre.

“Once implemented the Mobile App shall assist the cross border traders to get information on the various trade related activities in the region as well as use the App to make payments,” he said.

“Gone are the days when we have had documents being presented physically at the border posts because with the digital economy, you can do that from the country of export irrespective of where it is,” Ngwenya added.  "The long queues that we see at the borders are needless."

He said millions of dollars are paid to banks for merely signing letters of credit because businessmen and women do not trust one another, a situation he said will be remedied as the business community embrace digital economy.

In her official opening address to the 37th Comesa Council of Ministers' meeting, the Vice president appreciated that 15 out of the 19 Comesa member States are now trading with each other under the free trade area agreement.

"It is the desire of the regional block to welcome all the 19 countries into the Comesa FTA so that we can further enhance economic benefits arising from market expansion," Mrs Wina said. "Our desire is to see all participating countries emerge as equal players in this regional block with equitable sharing of benefits, where no member becomes worse off as a  result of adopting liberal trade rules."

She urged member States to prioritize industrialization to ensure that value chains within and across the region are developed. She noted that the composition of intra comesa trade was dominated by primary commodities which, devoid of value addition, cannot create wealth.

The chair of the Comesa Council of Ministers Hon. Nourdine Chabani, who is also the Minister for Trade and Consumption of Madagascar, appealed to member States to provide resources through their assessed contributions to the Secretariat and institutions, to enable integration to succeed.

In the agenda of the Council is a raft of recommendations placed before them by the Intergovernmental Committee. They cover implementation of regional integration programmes by the Secretariat, the Comesa institutions and the member States.

The meeting will come to an end tomorrow, Saturday November, 4, 2017 with the Council making decisions that are binding to all member States and Comesa Secretariat and its institutions.

The meeting was also addressed by the Secretary General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States Dr. Patrick Gomes.