Article by Stanley James, Business Editor
The regional trade agenda has scaled the level of business in Africa despite the challenges facing the nations. While Africa has vast resources, the key concern is mainly on how they can be tapped for maximum utilisation.
The COMESA region, which boasts over 660 million people and a market base of over US$1,1 trillion, has all that it takes to be a centre of attraction in boosting continental trade. With business journalists from the region this week convening in Malawi for a COMESA Competition workshop, the general consensus is on the need to educate and inform the relevant member states about what can be done to boost trade.
The journalists, who even formed a COMESA regional media forum, resolved to focus on a wide coverage of regional integration issues highlighting the need for competition as a major thrust in enhancing the quality of goods and services. Under the COMESA Competition Commission, the media personnel have also been mandated to share and network on key issues relating to what can be done towards eliminating unethical business practices.
Freeing up businesses in the region to scale up the competition is another issue that was highlighted, with the focus being on the media practitioners to be the monitors of how firms are competing in the regional markets in a manner that seeks to boost regional integration. That some governments are still reluctant to open up markets or strategic sectors for effective competition emerged as a major source of worry in terms of boosting regional trade. Journalists noted that the need to identify experts in the field of regional trade is also of greater importance.
The experts have the advantage of providing insights on issues relating to currency competition challenges, expectations and the way forward in so far as broadening the scope of business in the regional markets is concerned. For the electronic media, the need to even provide more participation by the experts in current affairs programmes is also being cited as critical.
Notable challenges cited by journalists as hindering competition in the regional trading bloc include the continuous dominance by single but large firms in the provision of goods and services, failure by firms to tap more markets due to funding constraints or economic challenges, limited knowledge on markets within the region in terms of accessibility and the high costs of market accessibility in light of currency instabilities and economic challenges.
With official data also showing that trade among African nations is hovering below 25 per cent, another challenge emerged during the workshop as to what can be done by the business journalists to further bring awareness to member states about the importance of intra-Africa trade. It seems African economies are more than willing to export goods and services to the developed community thereby undermining the thrust of regional trade.
Despite challenges hindering regional trade, it is the commitment by relevant organisations or trade facilitation bodies to forge ahead with removing barriers or restrictions, facilitating smooth trade, monitoring abuse of trade practices and protecting the interest of consumers that bears testimony to how the regional integration agenda is still on track.