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African economic bloc edges closer

KAMPALA, October 22 – President Mwai Kibaki has called on regional leaders to support the creation of a bigger regional bloc that will ultimately culminate into an African Economic Community.

The president said all regions of the world were fast moving towards economic integration and pointed out that Africa needed to move fast in instituting legal and institutional pillars that would facilitate progress towards a single market.

“For us in Africa, time is of essence to enable our region reap the benefits of deeper regional integration”, the President said at the start of the first tripartite meeting of the Common Market for Eastern African (COMESA), East African Community (EAC) and the South African Development Corporation (SADC) in Kampala.

He said the summit heralds the beginning of an unprecedented process of great significance for both the region and the entire continent.

President Kibaki who is the current chairman of COMESA said new global challenges dictated that regional groupings come together to craft a trading block that reflected the new dynamics.

Said the President; “I sincerely believe that this Tripartite Summit is the first important step towards institutionalizing cooperation between COMESA, East African Community and SADC.”

Noting that there are enormous benefits of a wider regional block in terms of welfare gains, increased efficiency in production, increased trade and investments, President Kibaki added that a large single market was a path towards poverty alleviation and employment creation.

He said trade has enormous potential to improve the welfare of the public through various linkages with all sectors of the economy and called for infrastructural development that would address supply constraints that had caused African economies to be less competitive in the global arena.

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Earlier while speaking at a State banquet on Tuesday night at Entebbe State House, President Kibaki said it was incumbent on regional leaders to act to cushion the citizenry against the current global financial instability and high food and energy prices.

 “The Tripartite arrangement for our three Regional Economic Communities gives our region a rare opportunity to jointly address these and other challenges experienced by our people,” President Kibaki said.

He observed that current global trends would continue to threaten the livelihoods of the common people, but pointed out that the summit provided the leaders with a single path through which they could complement each other in providing the necessary assistance.

He said that with a total membership of 26 countries in the three trading blocs which is about half the African Union Membership, the decisions made at the summit were bound to have an effect to the rest of the continent.

The President expressed his gratification that all COMESA member states had managed to attain a programme implementation level of 75 percent adding that the organisation was seeking ways of securing its interests through meaningful engagements with other international players.

The Head of State noted that COMESA programmes were designed with flexibility in the event of extended regional interests adding that specialised institutions such as PTA Bank and others are already operating beyond COMESA boundaries.

The Head of State added that the successful stories of COMESA were proof that integration programmes can be developed and implemented across the boundaries of the Regional Economic Communities for the benefit of the entire African continent.

President Kibaki also said the summit provided an opportunity to establish a co-operation framework and create an environment in which millions of people can be lifted out of poverty.

The theme of the summit which is “deepening COMESA-EAC-SADC integration is aimed at defining a policy response to mitigate the intensification of the global financial crisis and high food and energy prices.

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The summit is also expected to come up with a roadmap for the establishment of the Pan Regional Free Trade Area which has a combined population of over 525 million people and a GDP in excess of $600 billion.

Other speakers included President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Rwandan President Paul Kagame who is also the Chairman of the EAC, President Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa who is the Chairman SADC and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete who is the Chairman of the African Union.

All speakers emphasised the need for Africa to integrate economically and politically for it to survive the current global challenges.

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