Leaders from 26 African countries are holding a summit aimed at
increasing economic and political ties among three of the continent's trading
blocs. The meeting opened today in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
The summit brings
together leaders of member states from the East African Community (EAC),
the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community
They are expected to discuss the creation of a
united economic community. They will also look at ways to establish free
movement of people among the countries of the three trading blocs.
Bigger Is Better
Nairobi-based economic analyst Robert Shaw says
it makes sense for the three large trading blocs to move toward greater trade
integration and the creation of a larger market for investment: "African
markets as countries are actually very, very small...If
you want to be more attractive, you must be a bigger market."
Many of these regional groupings already call on
member states to break down trade barriers and promote the free movement of
people and goods. Shaw says the problem is that free movement exists only among
the members of the three trading blocs: "The COMESA group has proved to be
relatively successful," he says. "Trade among members has been growing at a greater rate
than the economies of its countries. (But) it does not include most of southern
Africa. The interesting thing about this [proposed combined trading bloc] is
that would include the biggest economy in east and southern Africa, South
Africa, [as well as the other countries of southern Africa].
He says a larger market would see member
countries playing a complementary role. "Kenya in East Africa is a regional hub
and has a reasonably sophisticated manufacturing sector, while Tanzania has
huge agricultural potential and capacity. Tanzania could be a major food
supplier for Kenya, which for some time will be a major food importer. There is
the demand for factories producing fertilizer, but to have a big enough market,
you need a regional market."
Shaw says recent global events,
including increases in fuel and food prices for African consumers, have
emphasized the need for the conference. Many countries, he says, are talking
collectively about how to formulate better policies and improve trade and cooperation.
"They are going to need it," says Shaw. "We are all going to need it."