The COMESA Source21 High Level dialogue and international trade fair took place from 17 July in Nairobi, Kenya, attended by heads of state, hundreds on business people, investors seekers and a wide array of experts on regional trade.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta opened the forum in the company of Presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Edgar Lungu, (Zambia), and Acting President of Mauritius Paramasivum Pillay Vyapoory.
Among the key issues that took centre stage during the dialogue that followed the official opening was the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA), integration of Small and medium enterprises in the regional and global supply chains, elimination of trade barriers and promotion of digital and financial inclusiveness for enterprises.
Speaking at the event, President Kenyatta said: “The business community eagerly await the benefits of trade that will come not only with expanded markets but with the opportunities for rapid development and access to innovation and technology.”
He emphasized the importance of digitizing African economies saying it will improve transparency and accountability.
“If we want to integrate the continent, we have to be at the same level with regard to our digitization so that the process that we are using in Kenya has interconnectivity with the processes that are being used in Uganda, in Zambia, in Mauritius and elsewhere,” President Kenyatta said.
President Museveni decried the fragmented markets which he observed were too small to have meaningful economic impact and called for their integration. These, he said were major bottlenecks that undermine the continent’s efforts to move out of the poverty trap.
President Lungu said African governments must demonstrate political will to support SMEs for them to benefit from the AfCFTA. He said governments need to promote and identify SMEs ahead of the full establishment of the AfCFTA otherwise only the big companies will benefit.
“As a region, we must help SMEs fit in the bigger picture,” President Lungu said.
President Vyapoory spoke of the need to provide incentives to Small and medium enterprises by implementing favourable policies and setting up special funds to support them.
Secretary General of COMESA Chileshe Kapwepwe spoke of the critical need for digitization of commerce through electronic trade which will eliminate paperwork that constitutes a major impediment to intra-COMESA trade.
Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, the Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development said COMESA was placed to lead the continental trade integration as it had many successful institutions. He said the region needs to give preference to Made in Africa and COMESA to promote locally produced goods.
This will clear the path for Africa’s products to access regional and world markets.