The Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, President Robert Mugabe says great progress has been made in the COMESA Treaty Integration agenda under the various trade, economic development, infrastructure and political issues.
Cde Mugabe said the progress provides a solid base for optimism in looking forward to the attainment of Africaâ€™s integration agenda.
HeÂ was speaking at the opening ceremony of the 14th COMESA Summit in Swaziland, which is being attended by Heads of State and Government of the regional economic bloc.
President Mugabe noted that Comesa has moved from a Prefential Trade Area (PTA) to a fully developed Free Trade Area (FTA) in which the group has traded nearly all its merchandise free of duty and trade barriers among member states.
He said the positive implementation of the FTA has led to the intra-COMESA trade increasing by over 500%.
Under the FTA, member states have gained practical experience in trade policy formulation and implementation, especially with regards to the use and application of trade remedies, safeguard measures and the need for a fair and transparent economic environment.
Cde Mugabe noted that there is increased and closer interaction of the COMESA business community, which he said has facilitated the establishment of the Business Forum which has become a regular event.
Another achievement he highlighted in the trade sector is the streamlining of customs procedures and practices, leading to the establishment of the Chirundu One Stop Border Post between Zimbabwe and Zambia last year.
He said efforts are also being made to establish similar trade facilitation initiatives at other entry points such as between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo at Katumbalesa, between Tanzania and Zambia at Nakonde, on the South Africa-Zimbabwe border at Beitbridge, between Uganda and Kenya at Malaba and at Muchinji between Malawi and Zambia.
Cde Mugabe noted that COMESA has made great progress in infrastructure development, adding that the COMESA Transport and Communication Strategy, the Priority Investment Plan (PIP) and the COMESA Infrastructure Fund have been set up and will provide a good base in mobilising investment resources for infrastructure and services.
President Mugabe said the Tripartite Free Trade Area should be established as soon as possible to enhance COMESAâ€™s contribution to the attainment of the continental integration through participation in the tripartite arrangements between the East African Communities and SADC.
The President applauded COMESA for the various programmes that it has rolled out to enhance and promote gender equity and equality.
He hailed progress made in the area of peacemaking and security and said the long and interactive conflicts that were witnessed in the Great Lakes region and parts of the Horn of Africa have been resolved and most of those countries have turned their focus to post-conflict reconstruction.
Cde Mugabe ended by calling for the introduction of a COMESA Common Market Levy to provide a sustainable funding mechanism for COMESA initiatives and programmes.
He said the introduction of such a levy at reasonable and non-punitive rates, will fund operations of the COMESA Customs Union and other related integration programmes.
Meanwhile, at the same opening ceremony, some members of the media fraternity from the COMESA region were honoured for their contribution in the coverage of COMESA issues, among them was Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporationâ€™s Stanley James, who won US$5 000 for his contribution in writing stories on COMESA.