African trade reliant on secure maritime links, Seychelles’ president tells COMESA

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Trade can only be realised if the maritime links that connect eastern and southern Africa and beyond are reliable and have been properly secured, the President of Seychelles, Wavel Ramkalawan, told leaders from the region.

Ramkalawan made his first address as the President to heads of state and government in the 21st summit of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Authority which took place in Cairo, Egypt on Tuesday.

The 2021 Summit under the theme “Building Resilience Through Strategic Digital Economic Integration” came three years after the last one was hosted by the COMESA Secretariat in Lusaka, Zambia in July 2018.

“There is no doubt that regional and international trade are drivers of development, with over 80 percent of the world’s trade transported by sea. In light of this, maritime security is of paramount importance,” he said over video link.

Ramkalawan said that COMESA represents a chance for its member states to build on the economic and social relationships “and this comes through our increased collaboration. Such relationships are critical for Small Island States like Seychelles because they alleviate the constraints inherent to the small size of our economies.”

He spoke of the importance of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) which Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, signed in June.

“The agreement will be beneficial to us by opening up new frontiers for sourcing products at more competitive prices. Equally important is the fact that we can access a market of 1.2 billion people with a combined GDP of $2.5 trillion,” said Ramkalawan.

The main export commodity of Seychelles is fish which traditionally is being exported to European markets. Fisheries is the second top contributor to the island nation’s economy.

“In the absence of properly established mechanisms, exporting our fish to our own continent remained but an idea on paper. The AfCFTA is the mechanism which will help to transform that idea into a reality,” he added.

The Seychelles’ President also talked about the significant role of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in African economies and of the challenge for them in getting access to affordable financing.

“This is true for Seychelles. It is much easier for large, well established companies to obtain loans from financing institutions than SMEs. The adoption of innovative solutions brought about by the transformation to digitally-based economy is therefore of the utmost importance. This is one of the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Ramkalawan said that the member states have invested a lot of resources in COMESA despite the current economic challenges.

“This is testament to our commitment to the values, principles and also our belief in a strong COMESA region. We are working diligently towards ensuring that the multilateral system as a whole is credible, transparent and efficient. We believe that we need to uphold the virtues of equity and fairness where all members have equal rights and opportunities in our organisation. And this can only be achieved through meaningful, open and frank dialogue among us,” he concluded.

COMESA has 21 member states and its strategy is economic prosperity through regional integration. Egypt is the new Chair of the COMESA Heads of State and Authority after taking over from Madagascar on Tuesday.

Seychelles became a member of the COMESA in June 1993 when it was still the Preferential Trade Area (PTA) for Eastern and Southern African countries.

Source: Seychelles News Agency