President Michael Sata has observed that micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) have for some time now formed the bedrock of economic activities in the COMESA region.
President Sata said micro, small and medium enterprises are vehicles for economic growth not only in Zambia but in all other Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) member states.
Mr. Sata however, regrets that structural and operational rigidities, low production and productivity, inappropriate business development services, coupled with inadequate access to inclusive financial services have continued to restrict the growth of the micro, small and medium enterprises in the COMESA region.
President Sata said this in Kinshasa, Congo DR in his address to the 17th COMESA heads of state and government summit of the authority posted on his facebook page today.
He said in spite of these challenges, a number of indigenous business initiatives have sprung up from this group of entrepreneurs.
He said there was need to step up the efforts of the region to empowering this sector in order to contribute towards industrialisation and job creation so as to increase economic growth thereby accelerating the process of regional integration and to ultimately minimise the incidence of poverty.
This year’s theme for the COMESA summit is “consolidating intra-COMESA trade through micro, small and medium enterprise development”.
The Zambian leader said the theme could not have come at a more opportune time than now, as it embraces and reinforces an often overlooked vital aspect of our regional integration agenda.
Mr. Sata said the challenges encountered in the quest for the region’s desired levels of integration, particularly the promotion of intra-COMESA trade are not insurmountable.
He said trade facilitation calls for vigorous efforts necessary for addressing supply side constraints which have been hindering the growth of the industrialisation pillar under the tripartite framework.
He stressed that calls for the development of adequate regional infrastructure in energy, transport and communication could be addressed through the establishment of one-stop-border posts.
“The slow progress made on the industrial pillar in the tripartite negotiations is of great concern to my government. For us in the COMESA region, we need to ensure that the industrial pillars are fully developed in order to give chance to industrialisation in the region to achieve market integration,” Mr. Sata said.
Mr. Sata however noted with discomfort that although the COMESA free trade area was launched a few years back, it had only grown by less than seven percent attributing it to the fact that most of the COMESA member states depend on exports of primary commodities.
He has since called on the COMESA member states to start developing value adding industries in order for them to increase prospects of ever increasing the intra-COMESA trade above seven percent.
“For example, I have been reliably informed that out of the US$ 81 million COMESA budget for 2014, only about US$ 500,000 has been budgeted for the COMESA industrial pillars yet the region is endowed with an abundance of natural resources and human capital,” he said.
The Head of State observed that the resources were being exploited and processed within the COMESA region for the immediate benefit of the people in these countries.
“Your Excellencies, it is in this regard that I wish to stress and underline the importance of instituting measures aimed at promoting value addition and beneficiation of our natural resources, particularly the resources within our region,” President Sata said.
President Sata said if value addition and diversification could be promoted by the COMESA region, the vision of making sustainable investment decisions that will have an impact in the region would not go in vain.
He said resource beneficiation must result in long-term benefits for the people in the region.
Mr. Sata explained that Zambia has embarked on a number of initiatives to grow the micro, small and medium enterprises as government has continued to create linkages at national, regional and the global levels in order to realise their potential to create sustainable mechanisms for building export capacity, as well as to develop strategies for the formalisation of micro, small and medium enterprises businesses.
“Your Excellencies, the effective participation of MSMEs in our economies can only be attained in a peaceful and stable environment. The need to guarantee a conflict-free COMESA region, where issues of peace and security do not take centre stage cannot be over-emphasised. As Africans, we have, over the years, been able to resolve conflicts using African solutions, even where all hope seemed to have been lost,” he said.
President Sata further pledged that Zambia would continue to play a constructive role in finding lasting solutions to issues that COMESA countries maybe faced with and reiterated his government’s commitment to ensuring the safety and prosperity of the people.
At regional level, President Sata re-affirmed the commitment of Zambia’s membership to the regional body as it strives towards fulfilling the COMESA vision.
He assured the region of his government’s support during the tenure as new chairperson Joseph Kabila, President of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and congratulated him on his position and COMESA Secretary-General Mr. Sindiso Ngwenya and the entire secretariat for the excellent preparations made towards hosting of the summit.
He also thanked the out-going chairperson, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni who took chairmanship in November 2012 and his bureau for their excellent work in guiding the affairs of the organisation during the two-year period of his chairmanship.
“To our new chairperson and gracious host, his Excellency and your bureau, please accept my delegation’s warm and sincere congratulations. Your Excellency, Mr. Kabila you can be rest assured of my government’s support during your tenure as chairperson,” President Sata said.
President Sata said collaborative and unwavering efforts of COMESA, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) have resulted into Madagascar being welcomed back into, not only the African Union, but also the COMESA family.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was among other heads of state who attended the 17th COMESA Heads of State and Government summit which runs from 26 to 27 February 2014 and has attracted about 19 heads of state or government representatives.