Malawi’s Vice President, Saulos Chilima has challenged the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) member-states to adopt and utilise e-commerce platforms which would help them to explore new market opportunities.
The Vice President was addressing the 21st COMESA Heads of State and Government Summit in Cairo, Egypt on Tuesday, where he is representing President Lazarus Chakwera.
In his address, Chakwera said with the COVID-19 pandemic still among the people, it is important to re-enforce the provision of digital solutions as the solution to creating resilience in trade.
“I am delighted that Comesa has already started embracing ICT in its work programme. These include the automation of customs procedures, establishment of on-line reporting and monitoring system for non-tariff barriers,” he said.
Recently, Comesa Secretariat launched a 50 Million Women Speak digital platform supporting women to do business online, an initiative which Chilima said is a step in the right direction.
The Vice President said his strong conviction is that digitalization can deliver public services more efficiently, effectively, and equitably allowing more sustainable and inclusive development.
“It can reduce the cost of doing business and facilitate more flow of goods and services. It can reduce unemployment.
“Digitalization can also reduce illiteracy in our respective countries. Imagine a student in remote village accessing the same educational content as the one in the Capital City and that is where Comesa and other African countries ought to be,” he said.
Chilima further said Comesa urgently needs to attract and invest in the best talent, prioritize development of ICT, encourage innovations that attract lower costs, as well as providing policies that can lower the barriers to digital transformation.
Earlier, Chilima told the summit to develop a ‘robust’ economic recovery plan as a response to the devastation that COVID-19 pandemic has caused within the trade bloc.
He complained that the pandemic has reversed most economic gains that COMESA member states had achieved over years.
According to the Vice President, a direct consequence of the pandemic, the value of COMESA’s total exports to the world decreased by 27 percent from $123.4 billion in 2019 to $90.3 billion in 2020 while the value of intra-COMESA total exports declined by 11 percent from $10.9 billion in 2019 to $9.7 billion in 2020.
“Finally, on behalf of His Excellency the President, I reminded the bloc that Malawi is committed to COMESA. The role of a regional bloc like COMESA is crucial to the facilitation of seamless trade across member states,” he posted on his Facebook page.
Egypt has taken over chairmanship of Comesa Heads of State and Government also known as the Comesa authority.
This means Egyptian leader President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is now Comesa chairperson, taking over from President Andry Rajoelina of Madagascar.
Comesa has a population of 583 million people and an economy of US$805 billion.
The Summit is converging under the theme "Building Resilience Through Strategic Digital Economic Integration."