EZULWINI, Swaziland, Aug 30 – The private sector has been urged to actively participate in the formulation of policies that will help guide the proposed Free Trade Area of COMESA, East African Community (EAC), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
COMESA Secretary General Sindiso Ngwenya said the business community’s contribution would enable the three regional economic blocs to fast track the realisation of the tripartite arrangement which will result in a combined population of 568 million people and a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $875 billion.
“On the basis of an average annual combined GDP growth rate of five percent, it does not require a fertile imagination to appreciate and conclude that in the next five years this single market when operational will be a billion dollar economy that will be good for business,” the SG said while addressing a business forum on the sidelines of the ongoing 14th COMESA Summit in Swaziland.
He pointed out that already, the region was receiving a lot of attention from investors, a move that confirms the increase in cross border trade and Foreign Direct Investments thus the need for all stakeholders in the 26 countries ‘to do business unusual’.
A lot of work has gone into this project as demonstrated by the setting up of joint programmes in trade, customs and standards harmonisation and infrastructure development.
Mr Ngwenya disclosed that they are also in the process of establishing a Tripartite Secretariat that will be mandated to drive the integration.
He called on the regional business councils to merge into one organisation that will spearhead and lobby for their interests and at the same time urged the leadership of the member states to demonstrate political will to drive the process forward.
“This will send a strong message that the time is now and not tomorrow for a harmonious merger of institutions that promote regional integration. We need our political leadership at various levels to invest time and resources to expedite the realisation of continental integration,” he challenged.
The SG suggested that the Business Forum should hold a special Summit of the three organisations that will bring together Heads of State and Government ,private sector and civil society to articulate their issues and reach consensus on what needs to be done to fully integrate the region into the global economy.
“I am afraid that if this is not done the evolution of our economies and societies will be dictated to and crafted by those who are strategic and decisive in this global village,” he warned.
But even as all these measures are being undertaken, Mr Ngwenya underscored the need for the member states to develop mechanisms through which they can capture the investments flows in the region particularly those in the informal sector.