By Paul Shalala
Zambia’s continued membership to two regional trade blocks has the potential to maximize the country’s external trade, says a Zambian academic specialized in social sciences.
Dominic Liche, a lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Zambia, says both the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) have good trade regimes that are of benefit to Zambia.
Mr Liche said Zambia should maximise the provisions of COMESA on trade and also try to harmonise them with trade agreements she has signed with SADC.
“I personally think that it should not be a dilemma for Zambia tobelong to both SADC and COMESA. Of course there are certain areas wherethere are similarities and sometimes dublications but the objectives and mandate of SADC and COMESA are diverse. The question should not be about whether or not Zambia should have many trade agreements,” he said.
He further said Zambia should continue working with the two blocs because they are already working together to harmonise their trade regimes.
“And when it comes to trade, SADC works with COMESA and other African regional bodies to ensure free trade works across Africa. It is therefore inadequate to treat the two as though they have the same mandate for this can lead to a misunderstanding that leads us to think there is or could be a possible dilemma in belonging to both groupings,” added MrLiche.
But some civil society organisations have questioned Zambia’s continued stay in the two regional trade blocs.
This is despite government insisting that duo membership benefits the country and that the country cannot leave SADC due to its historical involvement in the liberation of Southern African countries.
According to a research conducted by a consortium of Zambian Civil Society Organisations, Zambia’s implementation of the SADC Free Trade area since January 2012 has cost the country a lot of revenue in terms of tax through complete tariff liberalization.
Further, the research findings have also revealed that the overlapping membership of Zambia to SADC and COMESA poses a challenge because it forces the country to be in an unease position as it will always be grappling with the possibility of dumping one of the two blocs.
Despite these research findings, the Zambian government is unlikely to pull out of any of the two blocs due to the fact that it hosts the COMESA secretariat and it feels it has an obligation on the welfare of the region due to its history.