SADC calls for effective coordination as COVID-19 threatens intra-trade

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Sharon Kavhu

Windhoek The effects of COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy is projected to lead to a significant contraction of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) economies, and threaten trade and industrial development- SADC Secretariat has said.

This comes at a time where intra-regional trade in SADC is very low, operating below 20% of normal trade volumes and thereby hindering member states from realising their economic potentials.

SADC Secretariat Executive Secretary-Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax said the decline in the global economy due to the pandemic will result in a decline in commodity prices and increased in debt this year.

 “This will reverse the gains on industrial development and trade that the region has made in the last couple of years,” Dr Tax said in her opening remarks at the SADC Council of Ministers’ virtual meeting last week.

“Member states are already experiencing disruption of economic activities, including agricultural production, food security, cross-border trade, tourism, foreign investment flows, macro-economic stability, peace and security, while gender-based violence is also on an increase.”

She said findings by the regional block shows that government expenditures on COVID-19 related activities has increased at a time that most of the member states are facing fiscal challenges.

In a bid to maintain and promote intra-regional trade, the SADC Council of Ministers, in early April this year, approved the SADC Guidelines on Harmonization and Facilitation of Movement of Essential Goods and Services across borders during COVID-19 pandemic.

The secretariat acknowledged that the guidelines have played a critical role in facilitating the movement of essential goods and services across the border. It also noted that member states, public and private sector participants were aligning the guidelines with national laws and procedures.

However, the regional bloc highlighted that the movement of goods and services across borders has encountered obstacles that increased the costs of doing business and negatively affected trade.

Dr Tax added, “Notable obstacles that have been observed include, non-compliance and non-recognition of regional legal frameworks and coordination mechanisms; lack of harmonisation and synchronisation of policies and procedures among, and between member states; unilateral decisions outside agreed frameworks; uncoordinated operations at the port of entry among border agencies, and different approaches to dealing with epidemiological challenges.

“All these are resulting in increased cost of doing business, and also negatively affecting the implementation of national and regional programmes, calling for a well-coordinated SADC regional approach to COVID-19.”

She urged member states to embrace a coordinated approach in the area as the region is moving to a post lock-down period where it is no longer only essential goods, but facilitation of movement of all goods and services so as to boost SADC intra-trade and stimulate production. She said such an approach will create economic prosperity for the region’s economies.

According to the secretariat, information gathered from the mapping exercise following the April 2020 meeting of the Council Ministers is being used to prioritise procurement of medical supplies and equipment from regional manufacturers and suppliers.

The same information is being used in the ongoing efforts of mobilizing resources to fight the pandemic and mitigate its negative effects on the socio economic environment of the region.

Dr Tax said, “The information is also being used in enhancing capacities of regional manufacturers in the context of the SADC industrialization strategy, which recognizes pharmaceutical value chains as a priority. This initiative will go a long way in improving our region’s preparedness to deal with such pandemics and also drive our development agenda.”

Meanwhile, the Secretariat has engaged a number of International Cooperating Partners on resource mobilisation. This was done with the aim to support a regionally coordinated approach in the provision of personal protective equipment and other medical equipment to deal with COVID-19.

Dr Tax said the support is also targeted at regional disaster risk reduction and management.

She added, “To date, the Secretariat has secured Euro 7.3 million from the German Government, Euro 3.6 million from the European Union, Euro 190,000 under the GIZ/African Union Commission, whereas, the African Development Bank (AfDB), has considered a support of UA 7 million. Engagement with the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) are also at an advanced stage.”

She commended the member states for the rigorous measures put in place to address and deal with COVID-19. Dr Tax said the measures have indeed, contributed to the containment of the spread of pandemic and protection of the citizens of SADC and beyond.     

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