Member states of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) have been urged to expedite the completion of the current infrastructure projects to boost regional trade.
The call was made during the 10th Joint Meeting of the Committees on Transport and Communications, Information Technology and Energy held in Lusaka Zambia last week. According to the COMESA secretariat officials, member states need to take decisions that will help accelerate the implementation of the bloc’s infrastructure projects.
Rwanda High Commissioner to Zambia and permanent representative to COMESA, Monique Mukaruliza, said the idea is to support the completion of most pending infrastructure projects to spur the region’s development.
Mathew Nkuwa, the Zambian Minister for Works, Transport and Supply, said there is need for policies, systems, institutions and resources to support infrastructure development and maintenance, adding that this move would reduce the infrastructure gap, support poverty reduction efforts, as well as “create wealth and enhance economic development in the COMESA region”.
Nkuwa highlighted lack of financial and technical resources to the support infrastructure projects as one of the main causes of delays in the implementation process.
“There is need to develop modern infrastructure that will make it easy for member states to trade amongst themselves,” he added.
Fast tracking airspace liberalisation
Meanwhile, the COMESA infrastructure ministers agreed on the need to fast-track the liberalisation of air space in the region to increase connectivity and boost trade. They say, air transport liberalisation will lead to increased air service levels and lower fares and, in turn, help stimulate additional traffic volumes and facilitate tourism and trade. Rwanda is currently leading the project to integrate and liberalise airspace in the COMESA bloc.
The COMESA airspace integration project outcome is according to aviation experts expected to set the operational options for the provision of seamless airspace and air navigation services within the region.
In 2015, the COMESA Secretariat secured approximately $10 million from the African Development Bank to implement the Airspace Integration Project.
This is a grant to COMESA which is given as part of the bank’s mandate as an institution of the Africa Union to support infrastructure development and services across the continent.
According to the COMESA Legal Notice No. 2 of 1999 agreement, member states are obliged to provide and grant traffic rights to designated operators and service frequencies between city pairs in the COMESA region. The African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) is currently spearheading the creation of a single air transport market in Africa under which 15 African Union members committed to the establishment of a single African air transport market. It is therefore envisaged that within COMESA region itself, liberalising airspace could spur trade and lead to sustainable economic development.
The ministers were however concerned that the agreement has not yet been fully implemented. According to COMESA officials, there is reluctance to fully implement the treaty because of continued use of bilateral air service agreements and member states that claim to have weak airlines.
There is also lack of harmonised regulations to facilitate the implementation process and a follow up mechanism.
Jean-Baptiste Mutabazi, the COMESA director of infrastructure and logistics, said COMESA airlines should form regional and international alliances to compete. The official added that member states should ensure minimum standards in terms of safety and security, as well as economic fitness requirements.
Early this year, a study indicated that airspace liberalisation between five East African Community (EAC) member countries would result in an additional 46,320 jobs and $202.1 million (about Rwf165 billion) annually. African airlines reported a loss of about $800 million in 2016 largely due to regulation of African airspace.
Meanwhile, the region will next year start implementing a seven-year programme which will culminate in the establishment of a seamless airspace based on harmonised civil aviation rules and procedures. This will result in improved safety, security, reduced operating and travel costs for airlines.