The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and European Union (EU) on Tuesday officially signed the cross-border trade initiative agreement at Mwami-Zambia/Mchinji-Malawi border aimed at enhancing trade flows for small scale cross-border traders.
The signing ceremony of the cross-border initiative agreement, which is financially supported by the EU to the tune of 15 million Euros, will help in different sectors such as grants, infrastructure, trade, private sector development, agriculture, good governance and fight against climate change.
Some of the border posts selected to benefit from the programme include Mwami/Mchinji border between Zambia and Malawi, Galafi between Ethiopia and Djibouti, Chirundu between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Tunduma/Nakonde between Zambia and Tanzania and Moyale between Ethiopia and Kenya.
Beneficiaries of the programme will be primary small scale traders, in particular, women traders who regularly cross borders in the COMESA tripartite region to sell and buy goods.
Speaking at the ceremony, COMESA Secretary General, Sindiso Ngwenya, said the programme on small scale cross-border trade aims at increasing the formalization of informal cross border trade and enhancing trade flows which is expected to lead to higher incomes for small scale cross border traders.
“This will be done through building border markets, supporting cross border markets, supporting cross-border traders’ associations and addressing harassment of small scale cross border traders at the borders, as well as collecting trade data pertaining to small scale trade,” he added.
Ngwenya said the programme is also aimed at reducing corruption, bribery and harassment (including gender based violence) at the selected border areas.
“My expectation is that stakeholders that are gathered here will embrace the programme on the small scale cross-border trade under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) whose activities will be undertaken for the coming four years,” he said.
Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Henry Mussa applauded EU for the financial and technical support rendered to COMESA and its member states with a view to help them consolidate regional integration, thereby creating growth and wealth of member countries.
“The 15 million Euros (K12 billion support) clearly manifests that EU has small scale traders at heart and also proves how committed the donor is in ensuring that small scale cross border traders participate effectively in the COMESA regional integration process,” the minister added.
Mussa said the programme had come at the right time when Malawi and Zambia are establishing a one-stop border post at Mwami and Mchinji to facilitate ease of cross border and transit trade, thereby reducing time, cost and improving the countries’ competitiveness.
“The initiative will help improve the lives of many through increased incomes and employment and help in alleviating poverty in our two neighbouring countries and also steer growth of our economies,” he said.
The minister also said the programme will help fill in gaps that the country is experiencing such as effective policy and governance reforms, institutional capacity building and trade related infrastructure while improving management of agencies.
Zambian Trade Minister, Christopher Yaluma advised small scale traders in Malawi and Zambia to use legal routes when crossing the borders for them to benefit from the programme.
“This initiative should motivate cross border traders to use formal routes to ensure they benefit from security and other benefits the programme will offer,” he added.
On his part, the EU Ambassador to Zambia, Allesandro Mariani said EU attaches high importance to the promotion of regional economic integration within COMESA to achieve the aspiration of the countries and people of the region to see faster, inclusive and sustainable growth.
“COMESA is a driving force of economic integration within its region and in the African continent, and the EU being COMESA’s biggest trade and development partner, will continue to support COMESA’s efforts and those of member states that are responsible for the domestication of the regional economic integration agenda,” he said.
Mariani said authorities of the concerned countries will have a key role to play in implementation of the activities targeting specific border posts to ensure full ownership of national initiatives.
The cross-border trade initiative for small scale traders will be implemented with collaboration from the International Trade centre (ITC) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).