Regional 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 (Comesa), Southern African Customs Union (Sacu), Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and West African Economic and Monetary Union (Waemu).
The rab 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 co-operation 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 co-ordination, 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 co-ordination 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 co-ordination 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.
The fifth stage will see the establishment of an African Common Market and the adoption of common policies while the final stage will involve the integration of all sectors, establishment of an African central bank and a single African currency, setting up of an African Economic and Monetary Union and creating and electing the first Pan-African parliament.
During the AU Summit in Gambia, whose theme is “Ratonalisation of RECs and Regional Integration” African leaders will review progress on the implementation of the Abuja Treaty and map the way forward for the continent.
The review of operations of the RECs comes at a time when African economies have been registering robust growth, with an average annual growth rate of about 5 percent over the past five years.
The RECs are at different stages of development, with Sadc eyeing a Free Trade Area, Customs Union and Common Market by 2008, 2010 and 2015, respectively.
Waemu has also made progress in meeting its goal to develop a competitive common market based on the free flow of persons, goods, services, and capital.
Members share a common currency, the CFA franc which is pegged to the euro, with a regional central bank in Senegal and a regional development bank in Togo.
AU Commissioner for Economic Affairs, Maxwell Mkwezalamba, has been on a tour of the various RECs to consult them on the rationalisation and harmonisation exercise.
He visited the Sadc Secretariat in Botswana in March.
“This is currently very high on the agenda of the AU, motivated by the overlapping and duplication of efforts,” said Sadc in a statement released after Mkwezalamba’s visit. ‘ sardc.net.