Sindiso Ngwenya, the Secretary General of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Friday called the decision by the three Regional Economic Communities (RECs) to form a Free Trade Area “a bold decision”.
“For successful economic integration, we need the kind of enthusiasm that led to African Independence. The decision made by our leaders to merge the EAC (East African Community), COMESA and SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) and have a Free Trade Area is one of the boldest decisions that African leaders have taken in 10 years. This clearly shows political commitment and let us give our leaders a chance,” he said.
Ngwenya also lauded President Paul Kagame for his remarks at the opening ceremony of the Tripartite Summit. He said that like President Kagame, he had noted that lack of political will was a major challenge that is dragging African integration programmes due to failure to honour their commitments despite signing protocols and treaties.
He further observed that Heads of State are the key drivers of regional integration and that political endorsement is critical for actual implementation of trade arrangements through establishment of a Free Trade Area.
In his opening remarks as the EAC Chairperson during the opening ceremony of the Tripartite Summit on Wednesday, President Kagame challenged African leaders to honour their commitments.
He noted that one of the challenges undermining African integration efforts was, “the issue of not enforcing protocols and treaties that we rightly adopt, with the understanding that regional integration is far superior to the existing small and fragmented markets, and a proven pathway to greater prosperity.”
Adding, “For example, we know the effect of non –tariff barriers in hindering the expansion of trade…removing these obstacles does not necessarily require a great deal of financial resources but political will.”
Addressing journalists at the Uganda Media Centre on yesterday, Ngwenya said that the role of political will in regional integration should not be underestimated.
“Like President Kagame said, regional integration requires political will. Do not be deceived by us technocrats who are bureaucratic. Politicians have the power and are accountable to the people who elected them. Before the summit, the Secretariats had been working closely but we needed political endorsement to move forward,” Ngwenya told journalists.
He added that the Tripartite Summit was historic because the long term implications of a Free Trade Area is creating a single market that will even be bigger than Europe despite the low Gross Domestic Product.
The Summit resolved that the three Regional Economic Communities (RECs) should immediately start working towards a merger into a single REC with the objective of fast-tracking the attainment of the African Economic Community.