Egyptian Minister of Trade and Industry and COMESA secretary general Chileshe Mpundu Kapwepwe at a press conference held in Cairo on the COMESA summit preparation (Photo : COMESA)
The Common Market For Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) was founded in December 1994 – to replace the Preferential Trade Area (PTA) that had existed since 1981 – as an organisation of free, independent sovereign states, which have agreed to cooperate in developing their natural and human resources for the good of all their people.
The theme of this year’s summit is “Building Resilience Through Strategic Digital Economic Integration,” according to the Egyptian minister and COMESA Secretary-General Chileshe Mpundu Kapwepwe at a press conference held in Cairo in preparation for the summit.
The summit aims to rally the 21 COMESA member states to safeguard and advance their regional integration agenda using digital platforms to facilitate doing business and enhance their resilience in the face of economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gamea said.
Gamea said that President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi will take over the chair of COMESA from the president of Madagascar, adding that he will also launch the COMESA Medium-Term Strategic Plan 2021- 2025.
The 21st summit will also review several key reports including economic integration priority issues, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region, the implementation of regional integration programs, as well as reports on the current COMESA round and the COMESA Business Council, she said.
Gamea stressed that Egypt is one of the key economic forces in COMESA with the largest share of intra-COMESA trade in 2020 at a total of $2.7 billion.
“COMESA is also a promising market for Egyptian exports, which accounted for 20% of exports within the bloc at $2 billion, while Egyptian imports from COMESA amounted to $700 million,” she said.
She added that the top Egyptian exports to COMESA are plastics, salt, sulfur, lime, cement, ceramics, machinery and electrical appliances, mill products, paper, sugar, soap, essential oils, and perfume.
COMESA Secretary-General Kapwepwe explained that the summit comes at a very critical time, especially considering the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic on most of the member states, whose economic performances have declined with the slowdown of the global economy.
Kapwepwe added that those challenges were a motivation for COMESA countries to continue working to deepen economic integration and create a conducive climate for the business community and the private sector, intensifying efforts to boost joint investments in various infrastructure sectors.
She pointed out that the COMESA average economic growth rate reached 5.6 percent in 2019, but fell significantly during 2020 due to the fallout from the pandemic.
She also noted that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts a rebound in growth to 4.3 percent this year and 6 percent in 2022, thanks to a worldwide economic recovery driven by vaccination efforts against the COVID-19 virus and a pickup in global demand.
Egypt chaired the summit in 2001.