President Uhuru Kenyatta (centre) Preseident Edgar Lungu of Zambia (right) and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (left)
during the official opening of the 4th edition of the Kenya Trade Week at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre.
Walking towards a “borderless” COMESA
Nairobi, July 19th. By Olem Edward.
The 3rd Edition of the Kenya Trade Week and Exposition shall linger in the memories of many as one event where pundits in trade matters shared round table discussions with the high and the mighty in the Common Market for Eastern and Central Africa economic block, COMESA.
The one week event which incorporated Source 21 COMESA International Trade Fair and High Level Business Summit was a joint venture between the Government of Kenya and the Lusaka based COMESA Business Council.
Running under theme “Powering Regional Integration through Trade”, the event brought together President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Edgar Lungu of Zambia and Paramasivum Pillay Vyapoor of Mauritius in face to face discussions with delegates comprising of Ministers, Principal Secretaries, business leaders and captains of industry across the COMESA region.
In his opening remarks, President Kenyatta hailed the exhibition for bringing together top policy makers and business leaders from the 21 COMESA Member States as an important step in the journey towards regional integration.
He observed that the High-Level Business Summit provided a platform for public-private engagement on some of the constraints that businesses face when trading across the COMESA region.
He recounted the fact that one of COMESA’s key objectives is to promote joint development in all fields of economic activity and the joint adoption of macro-economic policies and programmes to raise the standard of living of its peoples and to foster closer relations among its Member States.
“As Africa embraces the movement towards a borderless territory under the recently launched African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the business communities, both regionally and globally 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”, said President Kenyatta.
He explained that the desire for economic integration follows from the ambition and political vision of African leaders as stipulated in the 1980 Lagos Action Plan, the Abuja Treaty of 1991, and the African Union Agenda 2063 which is Africa’s blueprint and master plan for transforming the continent into the global powerhouse of the future.
“As we work towards seamless regional, and continental integration, we must remember that we not only seek a better business environment for our large enterprises who are represented here, but also expansion of our small and medium businesses as well as employment creation for our young people”, said the President.
President Kenyatta noted that Africa was a young continent, with about 60% of the total population falling under 25 years. “All our efforts to increase intra-Africa trade must also seek to generate decent and well-paying jobs for the millions of educated, talented, and energetic young people on our Continent” he added.
During the high panel discussions, 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 urged African governments to demonstrate political will to support SMEs for them to benefit from the AfCFTA.
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 to address low trade between African countries.
The leaders were in consensus that Market integration remained key strategy towards realizing the African dream.
They called for simplification, harmonisation and automation of international trade procedures, particularly import and export procedures, transit requirements and procedures applied by Customs and other agencies.
Of concern also was the need for harmonization of tariffs across the region to enhance market integration.