Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)

Basic facts: 

Signed: November 5, 1993

December 8, 1994

Head Office: Lusaka, Zambia

Member States:

Working Languages:
English, French, Portuguese

Head of Org.:
Sec. Gen. Sindiso Ngwenya

Ben Bella Road,

+260 211 229 725

+260 211 229 725

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) is a preferential trading area stretching from Libya to Zimbabwe.

Evolution of PTA/COMESA

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa traces its genesis to the mid 1960s. The idea of regional economic co-operation received considerable impetus from the buoyant and optimistic mood that characterised the post-independence period in most of Africa. The mood then was one of pan-African solidarity and collective self-reliance born of a shared destiny. It was under these circumstances that, in 1965, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) convened a ministerial meeting of the then newly independent states of Eastern and Southern Africa to consider proposals for the establishment of a mechanism for the promotion of sub-regional economic integration. The meeting, which was held in Lusaka, Zambia, recommended the creation of an Economic Community of Eastern and Central African states.

An Interim Council of Ministers, assisted by an Interim Economic Committee of officials, was subsequently set up to negotiate the treaty and initiate programmes on economic co-operation, pending the completion of negotiations on the treaty. In 1978, at a meeting of Ministers of Trade, Finance and Planning in Lusaka, the creation of a sub-regional economic community was recommended, beginning with a sub-regional preferential trade area which would be gradually upgraded over a ten-year period to a common market until the community had been established. To this end, the meeting adopted the "Lusaka Declaration of Intent and Commitment to the Establishment of a Preferential Trade Area for Eastern and Southern Africa" (PTA) and created an Inter-governmental Negotiating Team on the Treaty for the establishment of the PTA. The meeting also agreed on an indicative time-table for the work of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Team.

After the preparatory work had been completed a meeting of Heads of State and Government was convened in Lusaka on 21st December 1981 at which the Treaty establishing the PTA was signed. The Treaty came into force on 30th September 1982 after it had been ratified by more than seven signatory states as provided for in Article 50 of the Treaty.

It is important to underline the fact that the establishment of PTA, and its transformation into COMESA, was in conformity with the objectives of the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) and the Final Act of Lagos (FAL) of the Organisation of African Unity (Organisation of African unity). Both the LPA and the FAL envisaged an evolutionary process in the economic integration of the continent in which regional economic communities would constitute building blocks upon which the creation of an African Economic Community (AEC) would ultimately be erected.

Changes in the Regional Economy

Up until the late 1980s and early 1990s most COMESA countries followed an economic system which involved the state in nearly all aspects of production, distribution and marketing, leaving the private sector to play a minor economic role. This system promoted import substitution and subsidised consumption.

Thus from 1960 up until the mid-1990s, the economic growth of the COMESA region averaged 3.2 per cent a year, a figure marginally above the level of the region's population growth. By 1993, this region of about 280 million people then (excluding Egypt), which had more than doubled its population since independence, had a total GDP of around US$90 billion, and included fifteen of the twenty-three States classified as Least Developed Countries (LDC's) by the United Nations.