Kampala, Uganda (PANA) – Twenty-six Africa countries belonging to different blocs are seeking to merge into one economic bloc, a move pundits say will lead to faster economic and political integration in the continent.
If the move is endorsed during a tripartite summit slated for next week in Uganda, the emerging body will be the largest regional economic cooperation bloc in Africa.
The summit, slated for 18-24 Oct. here, will bring together member states from from the East African Community (EAC), Southern African Development Community (SADC), and Common Markets of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
Among other issues, the summit will tackle the current global financial crisis.
Citing strains on resources and manpower due to multiple entries in various regional trading blocs, the three regional economic bodies are seeking to dissolve their current sub-regional trading bloc and merge into one regional economic bloc.
The African Union (AU) has been debating the need to fast track economic integration as well as the Union Government.
However, while some members support efforts to speed up political and economic integration, others want a slower process.
“The best strategy is to consolidate regional integration and use regional economic communities as building bloc towards an eventual AU government,” Eriya Kategaya, Uganda’s Minister for EAC, said in an interview on Friday.
“So by deliberating on getting to merge into one bloc, we are implementing a strategy of moving towards a continental economic cooperation in a systematic manner than as we would be in our small and economically weak regional economic co operations.
“Our 1st Tripartite summit will bring together heads of states from the three trading blocs to discuss and exchange ideas of how best we merge into one economic cooperation,” Kategaya said.
He said the summit will focus on ”cross cutting” issue that affect the three blocs, with the sticking issue being infrastructural development and connectivity, promotion of free movement of persons and integration covering economic and trade liberalisation.
“While EAC heads of states have resolved to commit more resources for development of infrastructure: roads, railways, sea ports and civil aviation, there is need to enhance the inter-connectivity with the other regions infrastructure to benefit from synergies and this summit is expected to provide an impetus in this regard,” Kategaya explained.
The three regional trading blocs — SADC, EAC, and COMESA — have combined population of 527 million people, representing 57 percent of Africa’s total population.
Their combined average GDP per capita is US$1,184.
The mainly challenge facing EAC, SADC, and COMESA in implementing the regional integration programmes is the overlapping membership.
EAC is already a customs union but four of EAC member states are with COMESA and one (Tanzania) with SADC.
Five SADC member states are members of Southern African Customs Union (SACU).
Therefore there are 10 countries in this region that are involved in SACU and are also seeking alternative customs unions.
“Almost two-thirds of the 26 countries are either in a customs union and participating in negotiating an alternative customs union to the one they belong to, or are in the process of negotiating two separate customs unions,” said Sam Kutesa Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister.
“This has led to the recognition by the three Regional Cooperations of the need to initiate a process of coordination and harmonisation of their regional integration programmes as a way of mitigating the challenges of multiple membership.
“The tripartite summit will help mitigate challenges of multiple membership being faced by some of the members states, paving way for accelerated inter-regional economic integration,” Kutesa said.