Call for Uniform Standards on COVID-19 Responses  to Minimize Disruptions

Lusaka, April 28, 2020: A collective response to the COVID-19 by regional member States with uniform standards will minimize the disruptions being experienced in the supply chain for essential goods. Thus, COMESA has called on member States to stand together in bridging the gap between policy intentions and implementation outcomes.

Speaking during the first Extra-Ordinary Meeting of the Trade and Customs Committee of member States today, Secretary General (SG) of COMESA Ms. Chileshe Kapwepwe noted the gains achieved in strengthening market integration, investment and structural transformation are under threat, if Member States do not stand together and collectively respond to the crisis.

The meeting convened by the COMESA Secretariat through video-conference and attended by over 90 trade and customs experts from the 21 Member States. Its sole agenda was to discuss proposed guidelines for the movement of goods and services across the COMESA region during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SG said the draft Guidelines have been developed to help consolidate and coordinate efforts to manage the situation and rally Member States to conform to uniform standards to minimize disruptions in the supply chain for essential goods.

“The Guidelines are meant to restore faith in the commitments we have made to  co-operate in customs and border management,  procedures,  and activities through simplifying and harmonizing their trade documents and procedures as well as to abolish all,” the Secretary General told the delegates.

Ms Kapwepwe noted that the situation in the local economies is made worse by the fact that 80% of workers are employed in the informal sector and with all segments of value chains from plants, logistics of distribution, to the role of shops and restaurants, having been disrupted.

She cited the adoption of quarantine, social distancing, and restrictions of movement of persons, goods and services in the face of COVID-19 as directly resulting into production cut-downs, loss of jobs, shortage of food and other essential supplies.

“These measures require to be accompanied by pro-poor policy interventions to address immediate challenges such as food insecurity, lack of water and sanitation low social protection and lack of social assistance for the vulnerable,” she added.

She observed that the implementation of the COMESA Digital Trade Facilitation and other instruments and the liberalization of services remain core to strengthening the stability of the regional economy against current shocks.

The draft Guidelines will be presented to the meeting of the COMESA Intergovernmental Committee before they are adopted by the Council of Ministers in the next two weeks. If adopted, they will open an opportunity for States to work together and institute measures to safeguard regional integration benefits while cushioning traders, businesses and the vulnerable groups.

The SG encouraged Member States with comparative advantage in producing essential products and protective gear for health workers to support the other countries without sufficient capacity.  She also urged the governments to put in place a clear strategy on how to cushion the private sector to support it during and after the pandemic as it has equally been hit hard.

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