‘Harness cross-border opportunities’

Prosper Ndlovu LUSAKA, Zambia
OUTGOING Common Market for Eastern and Sothern Africa (Comesa) secretary general, Sindiso Ngwenya, has called on regional member states to harness opportunities offered by cross-border traders through provision of supporting infrastructure and related facilities.

In his last address during the opening of the Comesa Council of Ministers meeting here at the weekend,Mr Ngwenya said short to medium and long term measures have to be put in place to address deficiencies in the infrastructure and related facilities for the cross-border traders in the trading bloc as well as the entire tripartite region.

“The challenges facing cross border traders are indeed a region-wide one as evidenced by the Comesa trade facilitation projects that are funded by European Union and the World Bank. Taking in to account that cross border traders account for approximately 40 percent of intra Comesa trade there is indeed a need going forward for a comprehensive Comesa programme,” said Mr Ngwenya.

He implored the gathering, which included senior Zambian government officials, technocrats and ministerial representatives from regional countries, to come up with recommendations for consideration by the Comesa Heads of States Summit set for this week.

This year’s summit is being held under the theme; “Comesa Towards Digital Economic Integration”, which Mr Ngwenya said was timely on account of the fact that three elements in the twenty first century will define competitiveness of nations and regional economic blocks.

“These are knowledge management, learning and innovation. Indeed, the process of globalization has and continues to be aided by information communication technologies and software applications,” he said.

Mr Ngwenya said there were vast potential areas of digital applications for Comesa economic integration and went on to highlight what he deemed as key drivers for the rapidly evolving digital global economy that will underpin the fourth industrial revolution.

He said these were disrupting the Henry Ford model of mass production to customized production.

“These are artificial intelligence, 3D Printing and Nano Technology to mention but a few. With respect to trade facilitation the digital applications will see the twenty first century moving from the national processes and controls to virtual regional and global processes that eliminate fragmented national border controls through the application of the block chain technology, which essentially is a distributive ledger for sharing information between and among different parties in real time,” he said.

Mr Ngwenya said modern technologies must be embraced towards developing a borderless economy within Comesa and indeed the rest of the world.

To that end he said there must be a common and shared understanding of the technologies and companies that are at the heart of the evolving digital economy.

The Council of Ministers meeting is a crucial engagement ahead of the Heads of States Summit between Wednesday and Friday. Regional leaders are set to  appoint

Ngwenya’s successor after he had been at the helm of the regional trading body for the past 10 years. Mr Ngwenya is a Zimbabwean-technocrat with vast experience in economics and trading issues.

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