21st Summit of the Comesa Heads of State and Government President Ramkalawan addresses summit virtually, places emphasis on strong partnerships among member states |24 November 2021
President Wavel Ramkalawan yesterday addressed the 21st summit of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) which was held in Cairo, Egypt.
This is President Ramkalawan’s first address before the Comesa’s assembly since his election as president in October last year.
President Ramkalawan, who addressed the summit virtually, joined 21 African leaders who attended the summit either in person or virtually, as well as the Comesa’s secretary-general, Chileshe Mpundu Kapwepwe, and a number of heads of African economic groups.
According to Egypt’s Minister for Trade and Industry Nevin Gamea, the summit aims to encourage the use of digital-economy tools to facilitate business practices and enhance member states’ resilience against the economic repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In his address President Ramkalawan placed emphasis on the need for stronger partnerships among member states moving forward.
While being the first time that he addresses the Comesa’s assembly, President Ramkalawan noted that he followed closely the activities and deliberations of the Comesa and has always believed in its core values and principles.
“These are values and principles that are embedded in my government’s actions especially during these uncertain times,” President Ramkalawan pointed out.
He went on to congratulate President Andry Rajoelina of Madagascar, the outgoing chairman of the authority, “for his leadership at the helm of our organisation over these years and I would like to welcome our new chairman His Excellency President Abdel Fatah al Sisi”.
“I assure you Your Excellency of our full support in the tasks ahead”.
President Ramkalawan went on to tell fellow delegates that the enthusiasm for regional economic integration has not diminished over the years.
“The appeal of having stronger regional and integrated economies gives us the confidence and capabilities to participate effectively in today’s volatile and competitive international markets,” he said.
He further stated that the creation of solid partnerships between countries in a particular region and larger and more affluent markets outside our region indefinitely contribute to promoting standards and create incentives for member states to work together.
“Comesa represents a chance for us member states to build on our economic and social partnerships and this comes through our increased collaboration. Such partnerships are critical for small island developing states like Seychelles because they alleviate the constraints inherent to the small size of our economies.”
President Ramkalawan reminded delegates that Seychelles ratified the African Continental Free Trade Agreement in June this year.
“This has generated a lot of enthusiasm from our business community. The agreement will be beneficial to us by opening up new frontiers for sourcing products at more competitive prices,” President Ramkalawan remarked.
He said equally important is the fact that we can access a market of 1.2 billion people with a combined GDP of 2.5 trillion US dollars.
“Our main export commodity is fish and we have traditionally been exporting our fisheries products to the European markets. In the absence of properly established mechanisms, exporting our fish to our own continent remains but an idea on paper. The AFTA is the mechanism which will help transform that idea into reality.”
President Ramkalawan went on to express that the concept and launch of the AFTA have been rightly hailed as instituting a major breakthrough in the long and winding process towards the vision of a common economic space.
He said the conceptualisation of the AFTA has not however, by any means, resolved the many challenges that have characterised our continent’s integration throughout the years and much remains to be done.
“The original mandate of the Comesa was one which focused solely on economic integration but this mandate has evolved over the years embracing wider issues of development to include governance, peace and security, the environment, gender and social affairs to name but a few. The importance of consolidating the nexus between the Comesa’s and the AFTA’s agendas cannot be overstated,” President Ramkalawan affirmed.
He stressed that it is crucial a distinction be made between the trade aspect from other components of our integration agendas so that the non-trade aspects of the current regional economic communities integration agendas can be supported and maintained going forward.
President Ramkalawan said his allusion to the number of issues above compliments trade which the Comesa has embraced under its portfolio.
He noted that the Comesa has rightfully come to the realisation that trade will only succeed where there is an enabling environment of good governance, political stability, peace and security and gender balance prevailing in our region.
Over and beyond that, for Seychelles, it is a straight forward matter – trade can only be realised if the maritime trade links that connect our region and beyond are reliable and have been properly secured.
“There is no doubt that regional and international trade are drivers of development with over 80% of the world’s trade is transported by sea. In light of this maritime security is of paramount importance. Small and medium enterprises play a significant role in most if not all African economies. SMEs account for the majority of businesses and are important contributors to job creation and economic development. According to the World Bank they represent about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide. We know that the main challenge for SMEs is access to affordable financing and this is true for Seychelles as it is much easier for large well established companies to obtain loans from financing institutions than SMEs,” President Ramkalawan explained.
Furthermore he noted that the adoption of innovative solutions brought about by the transformation by digitally based economy, is therefore of the utmost importance.
‘’This is one of the lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic. In order to maintain social distancing, a great many financial transactions were conducted through services such as online and mobile banking, the use of pre-paid and ATM cards, e-wallets have offered welcome benefits of convenience, speed, security and affordability that traditional banking does not offer. This innovative approach has kept many of the SMEs in the Comesa region afloat during these difficult times,” President Ramkalawan remarked while commending the Comesa secretariat for its support of these initiatives.
He further highlighted that the launch of the ComFWEB chapter in Seychelles on August 31 this year was a milestone event.
“My government attaches great importance to initiatives that support and empower women in all facets of life. While our Constitution affords equal rights to women in Seychelles, there is field work to be done to fully empower our women on the ground. The socio-economic empowerment of women benefits society as a whole. I count on the Comesa through ComFWEB to support us in this endeavour. We were pleased to welcome the Comesa SG Ms Kapwepwe on this occasion which granted us the opportunity to have a cordial exchange where we outlined our respective vision and explored ways to elevate the level of our engagement in the Comesa,” President Ramkalawan stated.
He went on to note that member states have invested a lot of resources in the Comesa despite the current economic challenges.
“This is testament to our commitment to the values, principles and also our belief in a strong Comesa region. We are working diligently towards ensuring that the multilateral system as a whole is credible, transparent and efficient. We believe that we need to uphold the virtues of equity and fairness where all members have equal rights and opportunities in our organisation. This can only be achieved through meaningful, open and frank dialogue among us,” President Ramkalawan stressed while thanking the regional grouping for the warm welcome into the Comesa family.
Compiled by Marie-Anne Lepathy