corporation.jpgAfrican countries agree on Free Trade Zone



Amin George Forji


        One of the most important lessons of the European Union as a success story is the fact that economic integration is one of the only economic policies that works for the betterment of nations. Many African countries presently seem to be walking on that path, exactly a half century when the European Common Market, hitherto known as the European Steal and Coal Community, was inspired. At a recent 12-days meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, heads of states and governments of member countries of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), agreed on a common external tariff, and eventual transformation into a full-fledged custom union.


With a membership of 19 states, it goes without saying COMESA will become Africa’s biggest trading bloc, or custom union, what commentators have been quick to call a step in the right direction.


  Delegates at the summit agreed to launch the Custom Union at the start of next year, although there is a strong feeling hat he project is already underway.

 “Technically, we are already in a Customs Union. However, between now and the official launch of the Customs Union in December next year, we will agree with ministers in charge of trade in the member states to work out the relevant legislation to operationalise it,” COMESA’s secretary general Erastus Mwencha told journalists and reporters at a press briefing  in Nairobi at the close of the summit on Wednesday.



According to the new deal, the movement of capital goods and raw materials would henceforth be free throughout the entire region, and a maximum tax of 10% imposed on intermediate products, and 25% on finished goods.



   The host of the event, President Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki said the new deal was a clear demonstration that African countries have come of age and work together for common good.


“I’m encouraged to note that we have reaffirmed our resolve to take our regional economic integration to the level of a customs union by December 2008,… We must harden our resolve to desist from engaging in practices aimed at protecting our individual markets ” Kibaki remarked.

“Although such interventions may yield short-term relief to our individual economies, they can cause serious distortions in the larger COMESA market and erode investor confidence.”  He added.


Kibaki now replaces Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti as the new chairman of COMESA. Despite controversy and worldwide condemnation for gross human rights abuses and degrading economy, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, was voted as deputy chairman during the summit. Zimbabwe would as a result host the next COMESA summit, billed for early next year.

“While we rightly emphasize trade for our growth and development, it is equally important that we move towards trading what we produce. While external assistance can play a supportive role, ultimately its our own effort that will determine whether or not we achieve real and sustainable development.” Mugabe told delegates in a closing speech.


   Participants also used the summit to discuss on the crises plaguing the region. It is worthy of note that COMESA is the most warring and volatile part of Africa, with the continents longest conflicts (Uganda, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia), hard-breaking bloody histories (genocide in Rwanda and Burundi Massacres), failed states (Somalia, and most recently Zimbabwe), and famine plagued states (Malawi, Ethiopia), etc.

   The Delegates lamented the ongoing humanitarian crises in Darfur, as well as tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the conflict in Somalia. They considered the Darfur crises to be one of the single biggest obstacles to trade in the region. Sudan, it should be recalled has the largest surface area in he African continent.

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“The economic gains achieved by our countries and our aspiration for a better future for our people will continue to elude us if we fail to ensure stability throughout the continent,” Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak remarked.

The delegates also discussed efforts to set up a peace conference for war-torn Somalia.


COMESA was founded in 1993, and it aspires to evolve into a monetary union before 2025.





Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe

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