Africa blocs plan trade regime harmonisation

Three African trade blocs plan to harmonise trade policies so Africa can compete more effectively on world markets.

Erastus Mwencha, secretary general of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), said on Thursday his group would be meeting the East African Community (EAC) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) later this year.

“There is a plan already to have a summit later this year of Comesa, EAC and SADC to harmonise, so that you have the same trade regime,” Mwencha said.

“It is born out of the fact that we need to survive, we need to be part of the global economy. It is not just cosmetic but a matter of survival that Africa must go for unity and for that matter, economic integration.”

Many African states belong to several overlapping and often conflicting groups. Burundi, for example, is in Comesa, the EAC and the Economic Community of Central African States.

Tanzania also belongs to EAC and is a member of the rival SADC.

“Everyone realises that you cannot continue to offer, for example, [different] sets of rules of origins or customs structures, so there is pressure from the business community for us to have big economies,” Mwencha said.

Analogous regimes would help increase intercontinental trade, make the blocs more attractive for foreign investment and make trade negotiations less complicated, analysts say.

The five-member EAC already has a customs union while Comesa, which counts 19 states as members, plans to launch a similar one by the end of 2008.
Fourteen Comesa countries are in a free trade area.

Intra-Comesa trade is expected to rise to about $8-billion in 2008 from $6,8-billion in 2006 and $1,7-billion in 2000.

SADC also plans a free trade zone by the end of this year and a customs union in 2010.

Mwencha gave no date or venue for the planned conference. - Reuters

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