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Economy - Development | Politics | Human rights

SADC favours free trade

afrol News/ZANIS Feature Service , 3 December - At their 27th ordinary summit held from 15 to 17 August, 2007, in Lusaka, Zambia, heads of state and governments from the 14 member Southern Africa Development Community, SADC, resolved among other things to launch the Free Trade Area, FTA, by August, 2008 as part of the measures to enhance and strengthen regional economic integration and development through policy harmonisation and elimination of tariff and non tariff barriers among member states.

Efforts have since intensified to ensure the above objective is not only realised but also that the FTA translates into tangible economic benefits for the betterment of the region.

Soon after the summit in Lusaka, the SADC Secretariat based in Gaborone, Botswana, convened a workshop for national media coordinators and representatives of SADC national committees in all the 14 member states. The central item on the agenda was for participants in the workshop to digest, dissect and add value to the ideas, suggestions and recommendations proposed in the Communication Strategy and Plan of Action developed by the SADC Secretariat with technical expertise from a Namibian based communications and marketing company called Promax Communications limited.

"The hallmark of the Communication Strategy and Plan of Action is to ensure there is better understanding and ownership of the FTA among the various stakeholders in the region and that communication needs are served well in the implementation of the FTA," said Protasius Ndauendapo, Managing Director of Promax Communications limited in his presentation to the workshop.

."The document is premised on the common and collective desire to make SADC a more visible, powerful and effective vehicle for implementation of programmes, policies and values its member states seek to advance in deepening regional integration and economic development through the FTA," he added.

Officially opening the workshop held at Goborone's President hotel, SADC Executive Director Dr Tomaz Augusto Salomao said the successful implementation of the FTA will hinge on the effective and wide dissemination of information so that stakeholders and the SADC populace at large, understand and appreciate the merits and benefits of the FTA in the development of the region.

"All are agreed that the FTA is launched next year because of its strategic importance to the development of the region. But for this to succeed, everyone should be informed that we are moving in that direction hence the importance of the Communication Strategy to serve as a guide in the dissemination of information on the FTA so that no one is left behind," said Dr Salomao.

In this regard, the media, both public and private, print and electronic, such as radio and television stations, news agencies, regional information offices and magazines, are challenged to place high premium on regular dissemination, broadcast and publicity of information on the SADC FTA so that it is understood and embraced by the ordinary of people in the region.

And in his presentation to the workshop entitled 'Overview of the SADC Free Trade Area (FTA), Rationale, Evolution, Milestones, Expectations and Road Ahead, Noko Murangi who is Director for Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment (TIFI) at the SADC Secretariat, said the FTA is the most common form of regional integration through policy harmonisation and elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers among member states.

"The FTA is the first and important step towards regional integration. From the FTA we will move to the Customs Union by 2010 and to a regional single currency by 2018," said Murangi.

Murangi stressed that the FTA, other merits aside, will result in increased economic efficiency, faster transfer of technology and increased exports within the region and abroad. "Ultimately, through the FTA, the goal is to improve the quality of life of the people, said Murangi.

For their part, workshop participants recommended among other things, that media awards should be introduced on best coverage of the FTA as one way of encouraging and motivating journalists to broaden and deepen their coverage of the subject.

They further recommended that as a matter of priority, workshops should be held at regional and member states level to orient and sensitise media practitioners on the FTA so that they report with confidence and authority on the matter.

And from 5th to 9th November, 2007, the SADC extraordinary council of ministers met in Lusaka, Zambia under the Chairmanship of Zambia's Foreign Affairs Minister Kabinga Pande to review progress in the implementation of the FTA and mop up other unfinished business.

Briefing the press at the end of a week long series of meetings on regional economic integration, Mr Pande declared that SADC was ready to launch the FTA next year.

He said this followed a review of progress made towards the launch of the FTA.

Mr Pande said the SADC ministerial Taskforce also received the Draft Roadmap aimed at establishing the Customs Union after the FTA.

He said the council of ministers also dealt with issues aimed at adjusting and realigning the structure of the SADC Secretariat based on the regional body's Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) and the Strategic Plan of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, SIPO.

Mr Pande said the council of ministers further reviewed the report of the Executive Secretary on the job evaluation and approved the establishment of a second positionof the Deputy Executive Secretary.

"This means that there shall be two Deputy Executive Secretaries at the SADC Secretariat – one for programmes and the other for support services," said Mr Pande.

The measures will no doubt enhance the SADC Secretariat's capacity to deliver especially in view of the many tasks that lie ahead most urgent of all the FTA.

Mr Pande said SADC member states reaffirmed their commitment to implementing their overall agenda to deepen regional integration.

"I can confidently state that based on our proceedings over the past few days, we are firmly on course with our overall agenda to deepen regional integration within SADC," he said.

The minister pointed out that the resolve of governments in the region to launch the SADC Free Trade Area in 2008 remained unshaken. The ministers also renewed their commitment to establish the SADC Customs Union.

"Gladly, we were able to reach common understanding on the critical issues in this regard. But a lot of work still lies ahead of us in translating all our plans into tangible results," stressed Mr Pande.

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