The relatively small weight
of intraregional trade in Africa, despite the existence of several (and frequently overlapping) RTAs, is
largely due to their production structure and the composition of their exports, as well as the presence
of non-tariff barriers and infrastructural constraints.
--(UNCTAD Trade and Development Report 2007 overview--p.XV)
Well, fancy that! The 19-member COMESA is also looking closely at how to resolve the serious lacuna within regional integration projects in Africa--that of efforts to promote intra-regional trade.
To this end, COMESA is looking more specifically at the small-scale trade sector--a long time in coming for MANY of the RECS--and how cross-border trade can be facilitated for them:
Speaking in Nairobi after holding a series of meetings with traders in East Africa to discuss detailed plans of implementing a COMESA Customs Union, due for launch in 2008, Mwencha said the trade bloc was also tackling various setbacks to trade.
My superficial reading of the review of the latest UNCTAD report on regional integration interprets some of these "infrastructural constraints" to be non-tax barriers that frustrate the efforts of traders across the region in their cross-border trading activities.
The article maintains:
These non-tax barriers include rejection of goods at border posts or delayed clearances.
A solution to this is for COMESA Secretariat launch what it calls a "simplified trade regime, which will facilitate cross-border trade for small-scale traders for consignments not exceeding US$500".
I don't think anyone can say this is a bad idea.
For me, ideas like these are only meaningful if other regionalisms can learn from them, and obtain synergies that can create a climate of understanding on how to make regional integration more palpable and real for the average COMESA-ian.
Meanwhile, what I intoned some posts ago on the regionalisation of power and energy projects has almost come to pass, in the sense that COMESA is promising that within the next few years, power shortage in the region will be a thing of the past.
This is because currently in the region -- as COMESA Secretary-General Erastus Mwencha said -- there are regular power shortages that can be attributed to Southern Africa's economic growth, with increasing demand out-stripping supply:
"If you look at the Southern Africa power pool, right now it is only Malawi and Tanzania that have not been connected. The Eastern Africa
power pool has not done as much as the Southern Africa power pool. In the next three to four years we should have the entire region interconnected which would be a tremendous..."
COMESA expects this regionalisation of power to happen by 2010/2011.