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Zimbabwe gets top Comesa post
Posted: Wednesday, May 23, 2007

From Itai Musengeyi in NAIROBI, Kenya
The Herald
May 23, 2007

ZIMBABWE was yesterday elected vice chairman of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa at the start of the trading bloc's 12th summit of heads of state and government here, in another show of confidence in Harare's leadership in regional and international fora.

Zimbabwe will host the 13th summit next year while President Mugabe will deputise host President Mwai Kibaki, who assumed the chairmanship of the Comesa Authority yesterday until the 2008 meeting.

Mr Kibaki took over from President Omar Ismail Guelleh of Djibouti, who now becomes the rapporteur, succeeding Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

The election of Zimbabwe as vice chair of Comesa – Africa's largest trading bloc – comes on the back of its selection to lead the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Economic Development and the executive board of the African Development Bank.

Environment and Tourism Minister Cde Francis Nhema will chair the UN Commission for the next year while the Secretary for Economic Development, Mr Andrew Bvumbe, will be one of the 14 executive directors of the ADB for the next three years based in Tunis, Tunisia.

Speaking to Zimbabwean journalists, Foreign Affairs Minister Cde Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said Zimbabwe was elected into the bureau after offering itself for selection and was chosen as per the rules and procedures of Comesa.

He said Zimbabwe was chosen because it was a long-standing and important member of the trading bloc.

Cde Mumbengegwi said no amount of demonisation by Western countries – which are on a relentless campaign to isolate Zimbabwe – would influence decisions in bodies like Comesa.

"This is a decision of Comesa," he said.

The two-day summit is reviewing regional integration, implementation of ongoing projects and programmes and assessing progress on decisions made at the Djibouti meeting last year.

"The annual Comesa summit is a forum through which we express our solidarity to the regional cause as well as provide political guidance to the ongoing integration process," said President Kibaki in his welcoming remarks at the opening ceremony.

Mr Kibaki said the summit should build on past achievements to propel Comesa to greater heights of integration.

He urged the grouping to intensify dialogue with other regional groups to deepen integration.

"As we collectively position ourselves towards deepening our regional integration, it is imperative that we also intensify our dialogue with other regional economic communities, notably the Southern African Development Community and the East African Community.

"This is of critical importance to all of us by virtue of the prevailing need to harmonise projects and programmes under these regional organisations and also in recognition of the ongoing negotiations with the European Union and the World Trade Organisation," said the Kenyan leader.

Mr Guelleh said Comesa had replaced the EU as the largest market for goods from member states of the trading bloc.

He said this should be strengthened and proposed the establishment of a taskforce to spearhead joint projects among member states.

The summit will address consolidation of the free trade area, progress on Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations with the European Union and the peace and security situation in the bloc, as stability is crucial to trade and investment.

It will explore possibilities of putting in place the customs unions by 2008 and promote regional trade and investment.

Comesa is moving towards transforming the free trade area into a customs union by next year, characterised by deeper integration and the merger of customs territories into a single customs territory.

Under the arrangement, countries would eliminate tariffs and other restrictive regulations on trade to create a more conducive trade environment.

The bloc was founded in 1994 when it replaced the Preferential Trade Area that had been in existence since 1981.

President Mugabe is expected to address the summit today.

He arrived here on Monday night and was met at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by Zimbabwe's Ambassador to Kenya Mr Kelebert Nkomani, Cde Mumbengegwi, Industry and International Trade Minister Cde Obert Mpofu and Transport and Communications Minister Cde Chris Mushohwe, who were already here to attend ministerial meetings.

Mr Kibaki was last night expected to host a state banquet for the seven leaders in attendance and other dignitaries.

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