Trade Experts Discuss Trade Negotiation Modalities in Time of COVID-19

Lusaka, September 16, 2020: Trade experts from the 21 COMESA Member States met today to review progress on trade negotiations between them and review progress towards concluding Trade in Services negotiations.

The virtual meeting, which was the 8th for the COMESA Technical Working Group on Trade in Services, considered the complexities prevailing during this COVID period and provided technical and policy guidance from the Member States regarding the negotiations.

Speaking at the meeting, Senior Trade Officer at the COMESA Secretariat Mrs. Alice Twizeye stressed the importance of concluding negotiations on Trade in Services in all the seven identified priority sectors. These include: business, communication, financial transport, construction, energy-related  and tourism services.

“These have potential to enhance the development and diversification of regional services as well as facilitate an increase in Trade in Services and proactively find solutions to be competitive and trade with third parties outside the region and globally,” she said.

COMESA considers Trade in Services as a fundamental economic activity globally given its contribution to job creation, building competitiveness and significantly contributing to economic growth. It creates the need for Member States to streamline their policies and promote it among themselves.

Mrs. Twizeye added: “This makes the Trade in Services agenda important for COMESA hence the need for this meeting so that despite COVID19 impact across the world, our Member States can take necessary actions and explore new opportunities to the prevailing challenges.”

Previously, most trade negotiations have been conducted in physical meetings. However, in view of pressing need for negotiations to progress, the Secretariat decided to convene the virtual meeting to provide Member States with relevant updates in light of the current logistical challenges of convening a physical session.

“Online negotiations may be very challenging and may be impossible but through online and virtual platforms exchange of requests and offers, it is still possible with other technical work on improving the drafting and presentation of the initial offers,” said the Senior Trade Officer.

At least 60 delegates attended the virtual meeting.

During the meeting, the Secretariat shared information and updated Member States on the submission of draft offers for sectors that Member States are willing to open for the others. It also shared preliminary technical analysis of the initial offers submitted and information on capacity building initiatives planned for the coming months.

The delegates provided suggestions on how to move forward on some of the issues to advance the negotiations on the schedules that have already been submitted during this COVID period to enable work to continue.

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