Despite the Accession of Sudan to COMESA, the Prospective Goal has not been Realized, Interview
COMESA (Common Market Eastern and Southern Africa) is the largest regional economic organization including 22 member states. The administrative structure of COMESA is consists of: the summit (presidents and government heads of member states), the ministerial council (ministers, governors of central banks, experts, and specialized committees), the secretariat which is located in Lusaka, capital of Zambia, and the COMESA Court.
The resolutions of the summit are considered binding to all but the COMESA Court.
Sudan Vision interviewed Secretary-General of COMESA Hashim Fathallah.
Q: The COMESA was founded according to an agreement stating essential goals. What are these goals?
A: Reinforcing cooperation, peace, security, and stability in and among member countries is one of the most goals to strengthen economic development in the region. Another goal is to strengthen relations among the member states of the organization to take unified stands internationally and to create an investment-friendly environment for local and foreign investors. The agreement also seeks to foster progressive development in member countries through encouraging balanced and coordinated development among the sectors of production and marketing.
The agreement also seeks to realize the goals of the African economic group and instill the principle of exchanged economic interests.
Q: What are the programs and steps that COMESA has taken to realize these goals?
A: The work of COMESA has been concentrated on removing customs and non-cutoms barriers in the commodity and service trade field, set up general guidelines for certificates of origin of exchanged goods, promoting cooperation in the transport and wireless telecommunications sectors especially regarding coordination and transmission of information, and enhancing the currently available transport means linking the countries of the region to each other and building new transport means to facilitate and activate trade movement and economic integration in the region in addition to formulating bases for easing cross-border trade. It also sought to unify the standards and specifications of the commodities produced in the region, enhance cooperation in the customs field, and cooperation in harmonizing monetary and financial policies as well as establishing a stock exchange to ease the flow of commodities and services. The organization also seeks to foster cooperation in the fields of agricultural and industrial investment, tourism, media, and group work among the organization’s member countries to save and well-use energy.
Q: What is the role of Sudan in the organization?
A: Sudan is a founding member of the organization in 1992. The general secretariat of COMESA was set up in the Ministry of Foreign Trade, a body which encompasses representatives of all economic ministries and entities related to the activities of COMESA. This secretariat follows upon the implementation of policies, projects, and programmes of the organization in Sudan.
Q: Did Sudan benefit from joining the COMESA?
A: So far, Sudan has not benefitted from joining the organization in terms of accessing the region’s markets and increasing Sudanese exports to them. This is due to a number of reasons relating to Sudanese exports varying between domestic and non-domestic ones. On the other hand there are several positive aspects of accession to COMESA in the fields of transport, telecommunication, insurance and reinsurance, tourism, investment, industry (financing the activities of the National Leather Technology Center), and peace and security in the region. The business men and women forum held recently in Uganda represents one of the positive aspects in which the papers presented by Sudan came highly recommended especially regarding Sudan’s applications of microfinance which the organization considered successful and model that member states in the organization can follow.
Q: What about the human, financial, and material resources slipping away from the continent?
A: This is one of the reasons why COMESA was founded, which is benefiting from human, financial, and material resources inside the region.
Q: What are the commodities African exports income is derived from?
A: All industrial exports of all kinds, except these coming from countries whose products are in need of more studies and refinement to be able to compete in the region’s markets and to benefit from the zero tariff dealt with among the region’s countries.
Q: Despite the abundance of natural resources the rates of economic development in the continent remain modest. Why is that?
A: Despite the fact that most of the continent’s countries are rich in natural resources but these resources have not yet been thoroughly exploited due to the scarcity of financial resources to exploit them, manufacture them, and export them as industrial exports and benefit from the added value of manufacturing instead of exporting them as raw materials.
Q: COMESA was founded to increase trade rates, and despite the success in removing A: some of the customs barriers among member state, the size of inert-country trade remains limited. Why?
A: Most countries depend on customs revenues in their general budget. COMESA follows up on the removal of customs and non-customs trade barriers to increase the size of inter-country trade, a goal which is still below ambition in Africa unlike other continents. The European Union is a good example of inter-country trade.
Q: What do you attribute the dependency on foreign markets for manufactured commodities for? Is it the resemblance of administrative structures in the continent’s countries?
A: The dependency on foreign markets for meeting the local demand is attributed to the stark variation in quality, standards, and prices between local and imported commodities. Our exports are less competitive abroad due to several reasons including, for example, the high cost of production of our agricultural, animal, and industrial commodities, the multitude of fees, and the difference in quality and specifications which is, when coupled with high production cost, increases the price for consumers.
Q: Why is economic integration not successful in the continent?
A: I think the reason is the tardiness of taking the decision leading to last one of the phases of economic integration due to obstacles and domestic and foreign problems in addition to the political instability of most of the continent’s countries and the presence of several decision-making hubs in the continent. All of these reasons delayed economic integration in comparison to, for instance, the European Union.
Q: What are the challenges facing the reduction of the cost of trade and investment among member countries?
A: The challenges facing inter-country trade among member countries are the complexity of customs procedures, the failure of member countries to implement a customs union until now due to the dependency, as I mentioned, of some countries on customs revenues in the general budget, and also not agreeing on one customs tariff (customs union negotiations have recently been delayed to 2015 to allow member countries to harmonize their conditions in a way that allows them to implement the unified tariff).
Regarding investment; the organization works hard to have a unified investment law in place. A draft will be distributed to have comments made about it, then it will be sent to the general secretariat to accumulate the comments and observations of the member countries, then submitting the law to the ministerial council to decide on it, and later submitting it to the summit to pass in order to become a binding law.
Q: Where is the COMESA court? And are the latest developments regarding it?
A: The COMESA court is made of a president and 7 judges. The mission of the court is to implement the articles of the COMESA agreement, settle the disputes regarding the implementation of the agreement, and issuing verdicts regarding harmful trade practices.
The court is based in Khartoum and is considered the highest judicial and justice authority not just in member countries but in all of Africa. The court has now been completely built and a committee has been formed to buy furniture for the court which will later be handled by the secretariat of the organization. All of that has been done in complete cooperation and coordination with the Ministry of Justice. The court is expected to be fully turned over this year.
Q: What is the actual reality of the African organizations and alliances and hopes cast on them?
A: Due to the obstacles mentioned earlier, we find that these organizations are still below ambitions. But we expect that these organizations will realize their goals provided that the member countries show strong political will.
In the end we thank Sudan Vision newspaper for allowing us the opportunity to shed light on COMESA. It is the only newspaper which has had such interest in this field.
By Khalda Elyas