The vision of free cross-border movement within the 19-member Comesa bloc has drawn closer to reality after three more states scrapped the visa requirement for travellers.
Mauritius, Rwanda and Seychelles have scrapped visas on nationals of Comesa member states while Zambia has issued a circular waiving visas for the region’s citizens who travel for official business only.
The decisions are part of efforts to implement the bloc’s Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Services, Labour and Rights of Establishment and Residence in the region.
“Although, we have not recorded new signatures and ratifications, a number of member states have showed strong commitment and promised to speed-up the process of signing and ratifying the protocol. The government of the Republic of Zambia has sent an official letter which states that the Protocol will soon be signed,” Mr Houssein Guedi Absieh, the Immigration Officer at Comesa, said.
So far four countries; Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe have signed the protocol on free movement of persons. Only Burundi has fully ratified it.
Kenya and Rwanda are, however, already fully complying with most of the provisions of the protocol before it is fully implemented by the bloc. The two countries have promised to ratify the protocol soon.
The ease of movement within the 19-member Comesa bloc is set to be received positively in Kenya which has made the bloc its single-most important destination for export. Official data indicates that the region accounted for 33 per cent of the Sh502 billion worth of exports that Kenyan made in 2013.
The red tape involved in the application and payment for visas has frequently been cited among causes of delays in intra-Comesa trade.
Faced with headwinds caused by the global economic slowdown, many businesses are increasingly turning to regional markets such as Comesa and the East African Community (EAC) to boost their performance.
Many countries in the region have entered into a Free Trade Area (FTA) pact under Comesa to grow their trade volumes.
Under FTA a designated group of countries agrees to eliminate tariffs, quotas and preferences on most (if not all) goods. Kenya is targeting to grow its stake in Comesa with the planned free trade zone (FTZ) at Dongo Kundu, Mombasa.
“The intent of the FTZ is to boost intra-Africa trade within the East, Southern and Central Africa region where goods can be imported into the zone and out of Kenya duty-free," Industrialisation Principal Secretary Wilson Songa said in an earlier presentation. The FTZ project will be established on a site of between 300 and 500 acres which is readily accessible to investors.
It will host wholesale and retail trading, breaking bulk, re-packaging logistics, warehousing and handling and storage of goods, among others.
Reserved for re-exports
Unlike the current practice at Mombasa port where all goods are subjected to slow customs procedure, an FTZ creates a haven where goods on transit face less strict customs regulations.
The area will be reserved for re-exports to the 400 million-people Comesa bloc, allowing for transhipment of cargo without inspection or paying customs duty.
The Comesa bloc is already the single-largest export destination for Kenya’s goods accounting for 35 per cent of Sh517.9 billion worth of goods exported in 2012.
“The FTZ is a proven development model which attracts foreign and domestic investors, stimulates local, regional and international trade, improves a country’s business climate and reduces the cost of doing business,” the PS said.
Globally, FTZs are organised around major seaports, international airports and generally underdeveloped areas.