37th SADC summit opens with call to improve trade

The 37th Southern African Development Community (SADC) Head of States and Government summit officially opened in South Africa on Saturday with a commitment to improve cooperation, boost trade and address infrastructure backlogs in the region.

President Jacob Zuma, who assumed the chairpersonship of the bloc, officially opened the summit in Tshwane. It was attended by, among others, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, Botswana’s Ian Khama and Zambia’s Edgar Lungu, who are meeting under the under the theme ‘Partnering with the private sector to develop industry and regional value chains’.

In his address at the opening, President Zuma said 2017 symbolises an important year for SADC, as it marks its jubilee celebration. The President said the time is opportune for Heads of States and Government to take stock of the progress and opportunities created since SADC’s inception, as well as to engage on the progress and challenges in implementing the SADC Integration Agenda. 

“We should foster an environment for reflection on the future strategic direction of the region post-2020,” said President Zuma.

Among others, SADC has a blueprint -- the Revised Regional Integration Strategic Development Programme (2015 - 2020) -- to guide regional economic development and integration.  
 
Progress has been made in implementing the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan and the Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap.
  
President Zuma said they welcome the measures taken to renew SADC’s vision, which is being built and aligned to the continental Agenda 2063.  
 
“Our collective responsibility and work in ensuring that we maintain a peaceful, stable and secure region is pertinent to attaining our objectives,” said the President. 
 
However, he stressed that the critical need for industrial and infrastructure development in SADC cannot be overstated.  

Lack of interconnectivity and poor transport within the region have been identified as the key stumbling blocks for the region to fully move forward with industrialisation and beneficiation. This has pushed the regional bloc to develop and introduce the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap 2015 – 2063, which aims to accelerate the momentum towards strengthening the comparative and competitive advantages of economies in the region.

President Zuma told the summit that the vision of a connected and prosperous African continent finds expression in the work of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA), where negotiations continue to aspire towards enhancing intra-regional trade and market integration. 
 
“These initiatives are geared towards creating employment, improving manufacturing, enhancing development and addressing poverty alleviation in the SADC region specifically,” said President Zuma.

Boosting regional trade

SADC executive secretary, Stergomena Lawrence Tax, used her opening address to reflect on trade stats in the region.

She called for member states, supported by the private sector, to diversify economies and industrialise, and expand value chains in the region.

The African Development Bank President, Akinwumi Adesina, used his address to commit that the bank will provide support for the development of special economic zones and industrial parks, and equity financing in the region.

“Africa must work for itself and its people, and not export wealth to others. That is why the African Development Bank strongly applauds and supports the agenda of industrialisation in SADC.

“Africa today has over $334 billion in pension funds and $164 billion in sovereign wealth funds. The size of Africa’s pension funds is estimated to rise to $1 trillion by 2030. What is needed is for Africa to mobilise these institutional investments into much-needed infrastructure,” said Adesina, adding that the region will develop faster if it mobilises domestic resources.

The bank has helped to establish Africa50, which has so far mobilised $860 million towards infrastructure project preparation and investments, with a medium term goal of mobilising $3 billion from the private sector. This is in addition to investments in the power sector. Through the New Deal on Energy for Africa, the bank is investing $12 billion over the next five years in the energy sector to leverage between $45 and $50 billion in financing from the private sector and other sources.

Investment in the power sector accounts for 35% of all the bank’s financing in the SADC region, with investments in major projects such as the Medupi Power Project in South Africa, the Kariba Dam Rehabilitation Project and the hydro-electric scheme on the Zambezi, which supplies 34% and 37% of the power for Zimbabwe and Zambia, respectively.

“Africa cannot develop in the dark,” said Adesina.

The recently elected Presidents of Lesotho and the Seychelles, Tom Thabane and Danny Faure, respectively, also delivered their maiden speeches to the summit. They thanked the region for its support during their challenges, saying the support proved that SADC is serious about free and fair elections. President Thabane said they have declared war against corruption in Lesotho. – SAnews.gov.za