Press Releases

     
    For information only - not an official document.
      UNIS/SG/2708
        1 November 2000
     Secretary-General Welcomes Free Trade Initiative
    By Community of East and Southern Africa States

    Cooperation of Government, Private Sector Said to Be Economic
    Necessity to Establish Role of Region in Global Marketplace
     
     

     NEW YORK, 31 October (UN Headquarters) -- This is the text of a message from Secretary- General Kofi Annan to the summit meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, of the Community of East and Southern Africa States (COMESA) for the launching of a free trade area:

     It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to all who have gathered in Lusaka to mark the birth of the free trade area of the Community of East and Southern Africa States.  This is a landmark in African regional integration, which holds great promise for prosperity and peace.

     In an age of globalization, there is no alternative to creating these larger economic spaces.  But, as the Community itself is only too aware, the creation of a free trade area does not guarantee the flow of trade.  Removing tariff barriers, as the Community will do, is just one step on the road.  The region will also have to address the plethora of non-tariff barriers that also stand in the way of truly open markets.

    We know that, to avoid these barriers, a great deal of trade slips across borders unrecorded.  That is good news in so far as it means that the volume of trade between African countries is probably much greater than official figures suggest.  But the bad news is that it also means Africa is missing the opportunity to harness the full potential, creativity and economic contribution of its people -- and especially of its women -- which is diverted into the so-called informal sector.

     The Community of East and Southern Africa States has taken important steps to simplify and harmonize customs procedures, to improve transport, and to promote investment in the region.  It is especially encouraging that the Community is seeking partnerships with the private sector.  Government has a key role to play, for example in establishing legal and regulatory frameworks, but it is the private sector -- including Africa's home-grown entrepreneurs -- that must produce and move goods.

     In the past, regional integration may have sounded like the fanciful dream of politicians.  Today it is an absolute economic necessity if Africa is to survive in the global marketplace.  In becoming the first African subregional grouping to pursue this path, the Community has provided an example of vision and courage for other African subregional groups to follow.  The leaders, groups and peoples who have brought this region to the dawn of a new era of fruitful cooperation merit not only congratulations but also support.  You have my pledge that the United Nations will continue to do its part.  In that spirit, please accept my best wishes for a successful launch.

     [Note:  The meeting took place on 30–31 October.  The Secretary-General’s message was delivered by Ms. Olubanke King Akerele, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Zambia.]

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