THE Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) has set up a project steering committee (PSC) to co-ordinate cross border trading initiatives aimed at increasing formal small-scale trade flows within the region.
Small-scale cross border traders are the key beneficiaries of new projects spearheaded by the regional trading body as part of the wider tripartite (Sadc, EAC, Comesa) regional economic integration agenda.
The first project is a 15-million-euro regional small-scale cross border trade initiative (SSCBTI) project, while the second is a 53-million-euro trade facilitation project. The two projects are funded by the European Union under the 11th European Union Development Fund.
According to Comesa, the PSC began its inaugural meeting on Monday in Lusaka, Zambia. Its mandate is to provide overall policy and strategic guidance on implementation of the projects and specifically, to coordinate implementation among various actors, who have been delegated and co-delegated to handle various aspects of the programme.
Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eswatini, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe were represented at the meeting.
Comesa’s head of corporate communications, Mr Mwangi Gakunga, said implementation of the two projects is expected to contribute to higher revenue collection for governments at the borders, increased security and improved incomes for traders.
He said the SSCBT initiative seeks to address challenges facing small scale traders, which include high transactions costs arising from delays at the border, high taxes and high transport costs; corruption and harassment among others. In the Comesa region, small cross border trade accounts for 30 to 40 percent of total trade.
“These challenges are the basis for the Comesa cross border trade Initiative, which the programme aims to address and thus facilitate and formalise this trade,” Dr Kipyego Cheluget, assistant secretary general in charge of Comesa programmes, was quoted in a statement.
During the meeting, Mr Gakunga said it was observed that representatives of the cross-borders were not fully equipped to defend the interests of their members. There was also no adequate data to fully understand small scale informal trade. Participants also noted general lack of adequate border infrastructure to cater for small scale cross border trade.
Meanwhile, the trade facilitation programme aims at increasing intra-regional trade flows of goods, persons and services by reducing the costs and delays of imports and exports at specific border posts.
Mr Gakunga said this will be addressed through reduction of non-tariff barriers (NTBs), implementation of digital Free Trade Area (DFTA), World Trade Organisation Trade Facilitation Agreement (WTO TFA), improvements of the Coordinated Border Management (CBM) and liberalisation of trade in services and free movement of persons. The PSC is made up of experts from the Comesa secretariat, who will be the main drivers of the project and will include representatives from the European Union, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the targeted member States.