Dual membership hamstring regional integration

By Jeff Kapembwa

LUSAKA – Dual membership and indecision on some of major policies being initiated by regional economic groupings are some of the factors slowing down the pace of industrialisation and regional integration in Africa.

While various regional groupings, the Southern African Development Community, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) and East African Community (EAC) have shown commitment to realigning and making the continent “action ready” to bolster intra trade and grow competitively compared with Europe, many countries were undecided on their priorities, hence delaying growth.

South African High Commissioner to Zambia, Sikose Mji,  argued that Africa’s growth prospects are being hampered, deliberately by the lack of prompt decisions of where to belong and what priorities are needed for various economies to develop as espoused under policies being  initiated  by regional blocs.

Citing the case of Southern African Customs Union (SACU), Mji commended the group for remaining focused and having helped South Africa, Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia to attain desired economic gains through balanced and increased trade.

“Dual membership is forcing regional integration, especially in SADC to take off because some countries belong to both SADC and Comesa, so each of these programmes is demanding their attention and they can’t move in turn,” Mji said in Lusaka during a two day trade and investment mission to Zambia by 24 South Africa businesses that came to look for investment opportunities last week.

“Countries that have dual membership should be told in no uncertain terms that SADC is in a hurry to develop and if they are undecided because they want to eat with both hands, they should make up their minds or be with SADC or another bloc, lest we drag behind in industrialisation and regional integration that we urgently want,” added Mji.

The indecision by many countries as well as failure to compete favourably has led to increased trade imbalances among SADC member states, hence the need for all 15 member states to rise to the occasion and make regional integration in the region a reality through increased intra trade.

“Our trade levels with Europe as individual countries are high, while trade amongst ourselves either in SADC, Comesa or EAC is negligible . . . we need to decide what is right for our people,” Mji added.

Gwynne-Evans from South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry argued that though every effort is being advanced by SADC and other economic blocs to industrialise and actualise regional integration being sought by the continent before the turn of the decade, many countries have not made up their minds on what they want to do and develop their economies.

Unless outright decisions are made, including countries overcoming the lust for dual membership and failure to honour various agreements, Africa’s quest to develop and increase intra trade amongst the countries will remain stifled for many years to come.

“The continental tripartite free trade areas have stagnated calls for regional integration have been dragging because some countries seek sovereignty or protectionism on various trade barriers. So unless, we decide what we want and now, Africa’s hopes of integrating of industrailising will continue going backwards and forward with no ultimate destination,”

This coupled with reliable infrastructure, including railway, roads, aviation and up-scaled interconnectivity (ICT), remain cardinal to the continent’s rapid integration, all which should be hastened.

Gwynne-Evans justified his argument that despite SADC having mooted a master plan to grow the region, having set aside about $50 million to resolve various trade barriers and enhance access to capital through various lenders, the Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA), Standard Bank, among other lenders, many countries lacked bankable projects to secure the funding, hence causing delays to accelerate intra trade among countries and reduce the imbalances.

South Africa, he added has set aside a staggering R1 billion for importation of soya cakes for onward use in that country. However, all efforts have faced a backlash from various potential service or raw material providers, with many either lacking capacity to meet demand while others fail to fulfill their obligation.

This is despite the commitment by the end user to pay upfront even before goods are delivered, Gwynne-Evans argued.

Zambia’s finance minister Felix Mutati assured investors that their security of tenure was assured and that all actions being taken by the government was in the interest of the people and also meant to protect property.

Zambia’s trade minister Margaret Mwanakatwe said the revocation of article 31 of the constitution by President Edgar Lungu was a ploy to protect investment in the country.  It was government’s continued desire and commitment to protect people’s property by tightening security.

All existing and potential investors into Zambia should be free to look at Zambia as the world’s best destination where liberalisation of foreign exchange was open, coupled with people’s hospitality, she said.

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