Administrative Processes Simplified to Advance the COMESA FTA

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) has made major strides in simplifying administrative processes under the Free Trade Area to deepen intra-regional trade which stood at US$90bn as of 2020. This is a reduction from the 2019 figure of $123.4bn due to COVID-19.

COMESA Secretary General Chileshe Kapwepwe said this during the opening of the 43rd COMESA Intergovernmental Committee meeting in Lusaka on Tuesday 29 November 2022.

In the coming year 2023, she said, the Secretariat will be rolling out further innovations on electronic exchanges of documents related to the import and export function as the region strengthens the COMESA digital FTA.

She said the Secretariat has implemented various policies and instruments including the Simplified Trade Regime (STR), trade facilitation and human mobility border specific action plans to increase formal small-scale cross border trade and ensure increased income for small scale traders, most of whom are women.

Also earmarked for 2023 is the construction of border markets supported by the European Union (EU) at selected borders in target Member States to provide convenient trading spaces for small scale cross border traders

This notwithstanding, she noted that the region has faced obstacles on free movement of people and services and urged Member States to domesticate the instruments related to these programmes.

On agriculture, progress has been registered in increasing agricultural productivity and production, food and nutrition insecurity remains a major challenge. This has been exacerbated by climate-induced shocks as well as conflicts.

“As your Secretariat, we are implementing initiatives to strengthen regional agri-food data and information systems, like the Regional Food Balance Sheet, reduce post-harvest losses, promote food safety, as well as enhance agriculture commodity aggregation,” she said.

Speaking when he officially opened the meeting, Zambia’s Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Hon. Chipoka Mulenga noted the increasing efforts being made by the Secretariat to address gender concerns in all programmes. He cited the 2021- 2025 COMESA Medium Term Strategic Plan which has embraced international practice by mainstreaming gender in all its pillars and having a standalone pillar on Gender and Social Integration.

Addressing the meeting, Country Manager of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Mr Raubil Durowoju said trade facilitation programmes are crucial for COMESA because the region is home to 16 African landlocked countries. For these, therefore, trade facilitation programmes are crucial if they are to participate meaningfully in international trade. He reiterated the banks’ unwavering commitment to work with the COMESA Secretariat, the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite FTA and Member States to mobilise resources needed to accelerate regional integration.

Ambassador of the European Union to Zambia and Special Representative to COMESA Mr Jacek Jankowski urged Member States to start building and investing in green, digital, resilient in brief sustainable economies.

The IC meeting will receive various Ministerial reports whose recommendations will be presented to the Council of Ministers meeting on 1st December 2022.