Malawi President Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera has emphasized the need for economic integration among Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) member states.
Chakwera made the remarks in his maiden speech at the 22nd COMESA Heads of State and Government Summit, which took place at Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka, Zambia, on Thursday.
Traditionally, Heads of Government and State who assume office in between two successive sessions deliver primary speeches to outline expectations and impress their agenda within the bloc’s system during their tenure.
Other leaders who carried out similar protocols were Kenya’s William Ruto and Libya’s vice president Abdullah al-Lafi.
In his remarks, President Chakwera called upon the COMESA bloc to accelerate economic integration so that member states collectively recover strongly from setbacks such as Cyclones Idai and Freddy, Tropical Storms Ana and Gombe, droughts, the Russia –Ukraine war, Covid-19 and cholera.
The Malawi leader noted that in the absence of unity, other foreign forces will manipulate African economic systems to their advantage.
“Our economic integration is a matter of urgency because since the time we ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area, there have already been forces from beyond our continent moving into position to work our own economic framework to their advantage rather than ours,” he said.
He added: “As such, if we do not quickly get our act together with economic integration on our own terms, it may very well be that by the time we fully integrate, the mechanism will have already been rigged against us to ensure that the beneficiaries of our economic integration are non-African economies.”
President Chakwera presented Malawi’s economic aspirations as espoused in the national development blueprint, Malawi2063, under what is termed as the ATM strategy.
“I call on all of us to move with speed on the key pillars of our economic integration. Those pillars include working together to increase our productive capacities in key sectors such as agriculture, tourism, and mining (ATM), which we have adopted in Malawi.”
The summit is being held under the theme “Economic Integration for a thriving COMESA, anchored on green investment, value addition and tourism.”
The main thrust of the discussions was on the need for COMESA to consolidate intra-Africa trade which remains at only 17 percent, a huge contrast to other continents most of who cross-trade with one another between 50 percent and 70 percent.
COMESA – comprising of 21 member states – has for many years – been the largest free trade area before the advent of what is now the largest FTA in the world, Africa Continental Free Trade Area. It has a population of 580 million citizens with a combined gross domestic product of around US$768 billion.