Economic blocs to meet

Motivated by a desire to transform its vast economic potential into reality, Africa has over the past decade aimed to unleash its economic might through a co-ordinated development approach modelled around RECs.

There are as many as 11 RECs on the continent.

The major ones are the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, Southern African Customs Union, Economic Community of West African States and West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU).

Arab Maghreb Union is the REC for North African states while the Community of Sahel-Saharan States, Inter-Governmental Authority for Development and the East African Community are regional economic blocs for East Africa.

Countries in central Africa belong to the Economic Community of Central African States and the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa.

The challenge now facing Africa is to rationalise operations of the economic blocs to avoid overlaps and conflict of interest.

Most of the RECs have identical sectoral programmes while several member states belong to more than one economic bloc.

This has created problems of duplication of programmes and activities as well as hindered progress due to conflict of interest among members.

The AU has embarked on a programme to rationalise and harmonise programmes and commitments of the RECs.

The programme will ensure that there are uniform commitments by all RECs and, hopefully, do away with the challenges of dual membership.

The RECs are the essential building blocks of the African Economic Community (AEC) envisaged to be in place by 2028.

The overall objective of the AEC is to promote economic development and integration, social and cultural development as well as to increase self-sufficiency.

The AEC further aims to promote cooperation and development in all aspects of human activity, with a view to raising the standard of life of Africa’s people, maintaining economic stability and establishing a close and peaceful relationship among member states.

The AEC Treaty, also known as the Abuja Treaty, came into force after the requisite number of ratifications in May 1994.

It provided for a continental economic community to be set up through a gradual six-stage process involving the coordination, harmonisation and progressive integration of the activities of existing and future RECs.

Implementation of the Abuja Treaty was planned to take place in six stages spanning a period of 34 years from the date of coming into force in 1994 to 2028.

The first five years involved the strengthening of existing RECs and creation of new ones where needed.

Stage two, spanning eight years from 2000 to 2008, involves the stabilisation of tariff and other barriers to regional trade and the strengthening of sectoral integration, particularly in the field of trade, agriculture, finance, transport and communication, industry and energy, as well as coordination and harmonisation of the activities of the RECs.

The third stage covers the 10-year period up to 2018 and will involve the establishment of a free trade area and a Customs Union in each REC.

The coordination and harmonisation of tariff and non-tariff systems among RECs will be the focus of stage four.

The aim will be to establish a continental Customs Union by 2020.’

July 2006
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