The value of Intra-COMESA total exports declined by 11% from US$ 10.9 billion in 2019 to US$ 9.7 billion in 2020.
The low performance was attributed to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and pre-existing factors such as supply-side challenges and prevalence of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs).
According to an update presented at the ongoing 37th Meeting of the COMESA Trade and Customs Committee, 13 – 15 October 2021, the low intra-regional trade resulted from existing gaps in the information available on trading opportunities, regulatory requirements in markets and factors that inform business decisions on production of goods and trade.
The meeting brings together trade and customs experts representing governments from the 21 Member States and will deliberate on issues that affect regional trade and integration. Key among them is how to get all Member States to participate in the COMESA Free Trade Area (FTA).
Besides, they will discuss the identification and elimination of NTBs, implementation of trade facilitation measures including the COMESA digital FTA, how to advance services liberalization and build effective platforms for trade promotion and e-commerce.
Speaking at the opening of the meeting, Assistant Secretary General in charge of programmes, Dr Kipyego Cheluget observed that regional trade could flourish if Member States embraced the COMESA trade and customs facilitation instruments and policies.
“If well implemented these could significantly increase intra-COMESA trade, reduce time and cost, increase regional competitiveness, create jobs and positively impact on living standards of our people,” he said.
However, he noted that the implementation of regional commitments and full participation of all Member States in COMESA FTA required greater efforts and improvement.
Last year, COMESA developed COVID-19 guidelines and an online platform for exchange of information on movement of essential goods and services. The aim was to ensure safe trade continued across the region.
The utilization of the platform is however still low; hence Dr Cheluget appealed to member States to mobilize national business bodies to ensure its full utilization not only to address information gaps, but also to create market linkages and business opportunities.
During the meeting, COMESA Business Council will present a concept for hosting biennial COMESA Trade Fair to promote investments in regional value chains and leverage greater participation of the private sector in the integration process.
A technical study on export potential for intra-COMESA trade will also be presented at the meeting.
The outputs of the meeting will be presented to the Intergovernmental Committee and later to the Council of Minister scheduled to meet next month ahead of the 21st COMESA Summit on 18 November 2021.