Comoros eager to dance …After joining the old boys’ club

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Timo Shihepo

Windhoek - The Union of Comoros has been legally admitted into the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the country is eager to reap and offer benefits to its new brethren.  

The Comoros, which became the 16th member of SADC last year was not fully admitted because it had not met some SADC legal requirements. Speaking to The Southern Times on Tuesday, its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohamed Elamine Souef said the island nation has completed all the requirements.

“Last year, we were at the Summit in an observer role. We were given a year to formalise all legal instruments and that has been done. During this summit, we will be officially admitted as a full member of SADC,” he said.

Since the legal hitches are out of the way, the Comoros is now eager to join the SADC trade industry, which comes with proximity to international markets. The Comoros will now have a chance to enter its products into the European Union for free should they wish to join the EU-SADC Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA)

Southern African countries are expected to tap even more into the European Union market after the EPA with the EU came into effect in 2016.

The Comoros is most famous for exporting cloves - the dried flower bud of a tropical tree, used as an aromatic spice, vanilla, wood charcoal, essential oils and scrap aluminium. In 2016, the island nation exported cloves worth US$43 million, vanilla (US$9.7m), essential oils (US$9.7m), wood charcoal (US$5.42m) and scrap aluminium (US$4.5m).

Presently, the trade volumes between SADC and the Comoros are almost non-existent. The top export destinations of the Comoros are India (US$22.9m), the United Arab Emirates (US$11m), France (US$9.4m), Germany (US$5.67m) and Tanzania (US$4.52m). The top import origins are Tanzania (US$172m), China (US$48.3m), the United Arab Emirates (US$46.6m), France (US$40.7m) and India (US$20.3m).

The country has been recording a trade deficit for many years and it is hoping that by trading with SADC, the deficit would reduce. In 2016, the Comoros exported US$78.3m and imported US$409m worth of goods, resulting in a negative trade balance of US$331m.

The Comoros is an island and borders Madagascar, Mozambique, Mayotte, the Seychelles, Tanzania and France by sea.  

“We came home to join the big family. First of all, we are getting proximity. We can feel that we are close to international markets. Now, this is a good opportunity to be integrated. SADC is a big market with some big countries like Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique. In terms of trade, this is going to be a good opportunity for our own market. In terms of economic integration, it is a big opportunity for us because instead of importing goods from Western countries, we can import from neighbouring countries,” said Souef.

Souef also says in terms of training and education, the SADC region has quite a lot of universities so for “us it is also a good opportunity to take advantage of this chance instead of sending our students to France or West Africa. It will be less costly, it is near and it is safer because a lot of travelling time will be saved.”

Souef said the Comoros is not just entering SADC to take from it, as it also has products to offer the region.

“The Comoros is a touristic country. We can offer many things to SADC. With us [coming] into SADC it means we have now to open our doors even wider to tourists from the region. Comoros can be a link between SADC and other worlds because our country is a full member of the Arab league, a full member of the Islamic Conference organisation and a full member of international Franco union,” he said.

Mauritius, Seychelles and Madagascar are other member countries for International Franco union and Souef said other SADC countries can rely on them and be the representative and to advance their interests.

The Comoros is also on the verge of discovering oil and gas. Latest data show a potential oil find of seven billion barrels and 1.1 tcf of associated gas. Made up of three islands and with a population of just 800,000, a major gas discovery and subsequent monetisation have the potential to dramatically increase the Comoros Islands’ GDP from US$660m.

“For almost five years people are talking about mineral resources, oil and gas in Mozambique and Madagascar. But also in the Comoros – we are going to have to add value to the region, something we can share with the region. Comoros is well known for crops, vanilla – we have the best quality of vanilla, instead of importing these from Indonesia and Philippines the region can import these from the Comoros,” said Souef.

 

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