Building capacity to help Africa trade better

36th Meeting of the COMESA Intergovernmental Committee opens in Antananarivo


36th Meeting of the COMESA Intergovernmental Committee opens in Antananarivo

36th Meeting of the COMESA Intergovernmental Committee opens in Antananarivo
Photo credit: COMESA

Industrialization in focus as COMESA Policy organs begin meeting

COMESA leaders have begun meeting in Madagascar to set the programme for the next one year for the 19 member regional economic bloc, focusing on the role of industrialization in addressing low trade volumes.

The Intergovernmental Committee (IC) that brings together Permanent/Principal Secretaries was the first to kick off with a call to member States to enhance their capacities to produce goods and services that have a high technology content in order to scale up industrialization

In his opening address to the meeting, the Minister of Trade and Consumption in Madagascar, Hon. Armand Tazafy said regional integration will only be consolidated when the value of traded commodities especially agriculture and minerals products was high.

Currently, the region trades more externally than internally with assessed trade potential value that would enhance intra-COMESA trade for goods, standing at US$ 82.3 billion. Intra-COMESA trade would increase by US$ 41.15 billion if 50% of the current external trading was channeled to the region, according to a study conducted recently by the COMESA Secretariat.

“Without sustainable industrialization, our region cannot adequately respond to the ever increasing needs of high value products with the rising middle class in our continent which has been forced to source elsewhere.”

The minister urged member states to involve the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in contributing towards industrialization in the region through backward and forward linkages. He said enhanced value addition and creation of value chains would ensure inclusive and sustainable industrialization while investment on the affected sectors would be increased.

Recently, the regional bloc adopted the COMESA Industrial Policy as well as the COMESA Common Investment Area to assist in facilitating both intra-regional and Foreign Direct Investments into the region.

“Member States should complement this initiative in the productive sector by implementing programmes that seek to enhance innovation and the utilization of science and technology even in rudimentary production processes.” Minister Tazafy said noting that this was being achieved through product and commodity clusters.

Secretary General of COMESA, Sindiso Ngwenya said time had come for COMESA to review its business processes including the model that the organization and its predecessor the PTA has used over the years.

“It goes without saying that regional cooperation and integration like any development process requires continuous review and reforms to ensure not only its relevance but the capacity to deliver on its promise,” Mr Ngwenya said.

He urged the Intergovernmental Committee to review whether it has adequately executed its role under the COMESA Treaty of developing programs and action plans.

“Has the Inter-Governmental Committee lived to its promise by developing programs and action plans? Perhaps the Committee has partially developed programs but I doubt that it has developed action plans and action plans for whom,” posed the Secretary General.

The PSs meeting which concludes on Wednesday, will receive progress reports of various technical committees and COMESA institutions. Each Member State will have an opportunity to report on its status of implementation of COMESA Programmes.

The outputs of the IC will inform the decisions taken by the Council of Ministers that meets later this week and the declarations of the Heads of State and Government during their Summit on 18-19 October 2016.

Statement by Mr Sindiso Ngwenya at the Opening of the Meeting of the Inter-Governmental Committee

Antananarivo, 10 October 2016

I have the pleasure to extend a warm welcome to all of you who have been able to make it to this important meeting which will yet again review the state of play of regional integration and come up with ways and means of strengthening and deepening mutually beneficial cooperation for the benefit of the COMESA citizens in particular and Africa in general. COMESA, as one of the eight African Union recognized Regional Economic Communities is key to the implementation of agenda 2063 and its 10 year program under the mantra of the “Africa we Want”.

I would like to take this opportunity on your behalf and indeed on my own behalf to thank the Government and the people of Madagascar for hosting this year’s annual COMESA policy organs meetings. Our Guest of Honor, please kindly convey our most profound gratitude to His Excellency, Mr. Hery Rajaonarimapianina President of the Republic of Madagascar. The conference and logistic facilities place at our disposal augurs well for the success of this year’s policy organs meetings.

I would like to make four points during the opening session of this meeting.

Firstly , that this meeting marks a turning point in the way COMESA meetings have been organized since its establishment and that of its predecessor the Preferential Trade Area for Eastern and Southern African States( PTA) in that we have for first time deployed modern Information and Communications.

Technology to run a paperless conference. Indeed, there are some of us who will feel threatened or uncomfortable with the technology. That is to be expected as disruptive technology when introduced has its birth pangs. What is, however, certain as in the case of any virtual application and systems is that once we get used to the systems they become our second nature. We indeed, live in a virtual digital world of television, telemedicine, E Commerce, Trade Facilitation, out sourcing and offshoring in production and banking to mention but a few.I would venture to say never in the history of mankind has technology made our lives and work more simpler and pleasurable than today.

It is my conviction that the introduction of a paperless conference will make us worker smarter and not harder as it will eliminate the drudgery associated with manual systems and enable us to produce reports in real time, thus putting COMESA in the same league as the private sector. I may for those who are not aware, draw attention to the fact that our mother continental body the African Union is already running paperless meetings including the AU Summits of Heads of State and Government. There are those among us who may be asking themselves the question of what are the advantages and benefits of a paperless conference which in years to come I predict will become a virtual conference. My simple response is to invite the meeting to imagine the next three days having a total number of 4,320 minutes (each day has 1440 minutes) and that each day is in effect, a time bank from which we draw our assets in minutes and hours. You will agree with me that the supply of these minutes is limited. You will further agree with me that time has no value before it is used or after it is wasted. The introduction of a paperless conference will therefore make all us worker smarter and save on time and make us accomplish more in the limited time. I would venture to say that we stand in the threshold of accomplishing more due to the following three essentials:

Firstly, we shall eliminate the unnecessary, slave-of-habit things that fritter away so much energy and time;

Secondly, the paperless conference will stop us from doing things in a hard way as it is simpler and faster and saves on resources and will enable us to go green; and

Third, it will enable us to do two or three things at once. Is it wonderful that technology can make it easier for us to be multi tasked! Muti tasking up to now has been the preserve of those who are endowed with special genes.

Allow me to conclude by making a direct link of running a paperless conference by giving a simple example of how COMESA can contribute to reducing carbon emissions. Currently for every COMESA policy organs meetings we use 1,000 reams of paper weighing 2,500 kilograms which require 60 fully grown trees to make. The carbon foot print of this paper is approximately 4,000 kilograms CO2 equivalent.

My second point concerns the role played by this Inter Governmental Committee of Permanent/ Principal Secretaries as provided for in Article 14 of the COMESA Treaty. The Treaty in Article 14 sub paragraph 2 provides that this Committee shall and I quote “be responsible for the development of programs and action plans in all sectors of cooperation except in the finance and monetary sector”. The rhetorical question I would pose during this opening session which will be substantively addressed during the course of the meeting is; has the Inter Governmental Committee lived to its promise by developing programs and action plans? Perhaps the Committee has partially developed programs but I doubt that it has developed action plans and action plans for whom. Without preempting the debate on this matter, I would humbly suggest that it is time for the organization to review its business processes including the business model that COMESA and its predecessor the PTA has used over the years. It goes without saying that regional cooperation and integration like any development process requires continuous review and reforms to ensure not only its relevance but the capacity to deliver on its promise.

My Third point, very briefly is that it has and is becoming increasingly evident that the full implementation of the COMESA Treaty provisions require fundamental changes in the governance structures of COMESA to make it a truly member State driven and owned institution. For example, a cursory examination of the various provisions of the Treaty reveal that instead of member States taking action to implement the provisions of the Treaty, decisions are taken by Council which are even weaker than the commitments member States have made when they signed and ratified in the Treaty. It would appear to me that what is required is for each member State to self select and assign itself a specific leadership role to coordinate either sectors or sub sectors with the support of the Secretariat. This innovation will not only enable our leaders to provide leadership but allow for peer to peer review and sharing of experiences. It is high time for COMESA to become a learning organization. A dare say that the strength of the Asian and South East Asian economies and integration arrangements has been and still is their capacity and ability to work together. In other words, these economies are learning economies that leverage and thrive on best practices. Within the COMESA family, there are member States that are emerging as global leaders in consistently implementing reforms and being learning economies on issues, such as, free movement of people, talent mobility and the ease of doing business.

My fourth and last point is on partnership within the region between our governments and private sector and other stake holders on one hand and with sister regional organizations and international cooperating partners on the other. On this note, I would like to urge member States to ensure that there is coherence with respect to national development programs and regional integration programs and projects. With respect to Inter regional economic communities member States, particularly those that belong to multiple RECs are in an advantageous position to ensure program harmonization and joint actions to avoid duplication of effort and waste of resources. Finally, on behalf of member States I would like to thank all cooperating partners for supporting with financial and technical resources COMESA programs.

I thank you for your kind attention.


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