HomeBusiness DigestUnite to remain relevant, trade blocs urged

Unite to remain relevant, trade blocs urged

Godfrey Marawanyika

REGIONAL trade blocs, of which Zimbabwe is a member, need to urgently integrate if they are to remain relevant in both political and economic terms.

erdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>Delegates at a conference in Cape Town, organised by Consumers International and Freidrich Ebert Stiftung, last week felt that most continental trading blocs were losing their relevance because they had not been integrated to achieve cohesion and unity of purpose.

The conference was held to discuss regional integration in southern Africa.

The delegates from different trade organisations felt that regional organisations still have to do more to achieve their objectives.

The meeting brought together representatives from regional governments, business, labour and Comesa assistant secretary-general Sindiso Ngwenya.

They discussed the regional trading blocs which included the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), East and Southern Africa (ESA) and Southern African Customs Union.

Sadc comprises Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Sadc is a typical example of an organisation that lacks integration and has also been battling to prove its relevance. The trading bloc, formed in 1980, aims to establish a free-trade area among its members within the next three years.

The Sadc has so far signed 23 protocols, but only 12 have been ratified and put into force.

Perhaps the most important of these is the trade protocol which was signed at the Maseru Summit in 1996 and ratified by the required number of member states in 2000.

The Sadc grouping also took an important step towards economic cooperation although this did not yield immediate results.

In principle, the Sadc states agreed that political stability was a prerequisite for achievement of the organisation’s objectives, but failed to agree on the institutional structures related to the establishment of regional security during 1990-1995.

However, at the Gaborone summit in June 1996, Sadc decided to establish the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security.

President Robert Mugabe was appointed to chair the organ. Commentators say the organ did not exist de jure before eventually being approved at the Blantyre summit in 2001, nor did it exist de facto. But still President Mugabe managed to make decisions and issue statements without consulting other member states.

Among the notable decisions he made was the deployment of local troops to the DRC.

Critics also note that the failure to achieve the intended goals was largely due to regional governments’ failure to translate their commitments in regional treaties and agreements into substantive changes in national policies, legislation, rules and regulations.

Analysts also noted that regional governments were unwilling to subordinate immediate national political interests in order to achieve long-term regional economic goals.

Acting director for the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute, Rangarirai Machemedze raised concern on the financing of regional bodies which he said affected their impartiality.

“We know very well that our regional organisatiions such as Comesa get most of their funding from Western donors including the EU,” Machemedze said.

Given such a situation, it becomes very difficult for the member states in Comesa to get maximum benefits out of negotiations as the secretariat will be in a “Catch 22” situation – seeking to save its members and please donors at the same time .

Economist Tendai Makwavarara from the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe noted that there was a general lack of political will to carry out regional integration as manifested in two different levels of governance in Africa.

“The political elite, which has been responsible for negotiating regional treaties, has been reluctant to hand over parts of national sovereignty to the regional organisations and create effective follow-up mechanisms,” Makwavarara said.

“At the regional level, civil servants in member states have lacked the political will to implement regional commitments of the political leaders at national level. The slow progress in the field of creating a common security regime mainly arises because of the lack of common values.”

She said that Sadc integration, especially in the field of politics, was difficult since nations were divided on two grounds.

“In their domestic policies, they have been divided into democratic and authoritarian countries and in foreign policies, member states can be divided into militarist and pacific countries,” she said.

The Sadc’s inability to create a dynamic security regime is due principally to the absence of common political values amongst member states, she added.

Makwavarara also noted that regional leaders have been reluctant to strengthen regional institutions and create follow-up mechanisms because of various reasons including fear of losing power at national level whilst empowering regional organisations.

“Southern African states being relatively weak and young states, have not been willing to cede much of their power to regional institutions. They have gained independence recently and therefore become sensitive to limit their sovereignty.”

Other participants questioned the sincerity and independence of regional organisations since they were funded by Western nations.

Funding from EU member states, others said, limited their degree of independence as they would not dare cross the line of their financiers.

“He who pays the piper plays the tune,” Collen Gwiyo of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions said.

“Can Mr Ngwenya clarify to us who pays his salaries and their activities? So how can they be independent from the influences of the European Union or anyone from the West?

Ngwenya, who tried to be diplomatic in his response, failed to convince the participants.

“Our salaries come from member states,” Ngwenya said.

“I can take the whole day explaining, but what is important to note is that most of our funds are financed from member states.”

Consumers International representative, Heidi Ulrich, said that her organisation was concerned that without a competition culture or pro-consumer policy environment, consumers and small producers could lose out in benefits from regional trade protocols.

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