The COMESA Free Trade Area

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The history of COMESA began in December 1994 when it was formed to replace the former Preferential Trade Area (PTA) which had existed from the earlier days of 1981. COMESA (as defined by its Treaty) was established 'as an organisation of free independent sovereign states which have agreed to co-operate in developing their natural and human resources for the good of all their people' and as such it has a wide-ranging series of objectives which necessarily include in its priorities the promotion of peace and security in the region.

However, due to COMESA's economic history and background its main focus is on the formation of a large economic and trading unit that is capable of overcoming some of the barriers that are faced by individual states.

COMESA's current strategy can thus be summed up in the phrase 'economic prosperity through regional integration'. With its 19 member states, population of over 389 million and annual import bill of around US$32 billion with an export bill of US$82 billion COMESA forms a major market place for both internal and external trading. Its area is impressive on the map of the African Continent covering a geographical area of 12 Million (sq km). Its achievements to date have been significant. (See also our comprehensive statistics)

COMESA Treaty COMESA Protocol of Origin COMESA CTH Rule 2.1 (b)iii COMESA Gazette on Regulations on Trade in Services

A Free Trade Area

The FTA was achieved on 31st October, 2000 when nine of the member States namely Djibouti, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe eliminated their tariffs on COMESA originating products, in accordance with the tariff reduction schedule adopted in 1992.This followed a trade liberalisation programme that commenced in 1984 on reduction and eventual elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to intra- regional trade. Burundi and Rwanda joined the FTA on 1st January 2004. These eleven FTA members have not only eliminated customs tariffs but are working on the eventual elimination of quantitative restrictions and other non-tariff barriers.

Customs Union

A Customs Union maybe defined as a merger of two or more customs territories into a single customs territory, in which customs duties and other measures that restrict trade are eliminated for substantially all trade between the merged territories. The territories, in turn apply the same duties and measures in their trade with third parties. In preparation for a Customs Union the Eleventh Meeting of the Council of Ministers held in Cairo, Egypt adopted a Road Map that outlined programmes and activities whose implementation was necessary before the launching of the Union. It is expected that the launch will be achieved by the year 2008.

Trade Promotion

Other objectives which will be met to assist in the achievement of trade promotion include:

  • Trade liberalisation and Customs co-operation, including the introduction of a unified computerised Customs network across the region.
  • Improving the administration of transport and communications to ease the movement of goods services and people between the countries.
  • Creating an enabling environment and legal framework which will encourage the growth of the private sector, the establishment of a secure investment environment, and the adoption of common sets of standards.
  • The harmonisation of macro-economic and monetary policies throughout the region.

COMESA Institutions

Several institutions have been created to promote sub-regional co-operation and development. These include:

  • The COMESA Trade and Development Bank in Nairobi, Kenya
  • The COMESA Clearing House in Harare, Zimbabwe
  • The COMESA Association of Commercial Banks in Harare, Zimbabwe
  • The COMESA Leather Institute in Ethiopia
  • The COMESA Re-Insurance Company (ZEP-RE) in Nairobi, Kenya

In addition a Court of Justice was also established under the COMESA Treaty and became formally operational in 1998.

Further initiatives exist to promote cross border initiatives, form a common industrial policy and introduce a monetary harmonisation programme.

What COMESA Offers

COMESA offers its members and partners a wide range of benefits which include:

  • A wider, harmonised and more competitive market
  • Greater industrial productivity and competitiveness
  • Increased agricultural production and food security
  • A more rational exploitation of natural resources
  • More harmonised monetary, banking and financial policies
  • More reliable transport and communications infrastructure

The Decision making Process

COMESA has evolved a comprehensive decision making structure at the top of which are the Heads of State of the 20 member countries. There is then a Council of Ministers responsible for policy making, 12 technical committees and a series of other advisory bodies (including specific relations with partner countries and the business community). In addition each member state appoints liaison persons in their appropriate ministries who form part of the day-to-day communication process.

Overall co-ordination is achieved through the Secretariat, based in Lusaka, Zambia, who will be happy to deal with all initial communication.

COMESA Member States

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