By Phiwa Sikhondze
The Secretary General of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Chileshe Mpundu Kapwepwe, has praised the Kingdom of Eswatini for its impressive trade performance in the region, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic period.
Kapwepwe made the remarks last week Friday when receiving the credentialsof Lindiwe Kunene, the new High Commissioner of Eswatini to Zambia and Permanent Representative to COMESA.
Kapwepwe said that Eswatini was one of the COMESA member states that had a positive intra-COMESA trade balance in 2020. She said that this was a clear demonstration of the resilience of the economy against external shocks.
“Eswatini is one of the COMESA member States with positive intra-COMESA trade in good balances in 2020. The country recorded intra-COMESA trade of E3.5 billion (US$ 189 million). This is a clear demonstration of the resilience of the economy against external shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
She further detailed that COMESA provided support to Eswatini which helped implement trade facilitation instruments that include the COMESA Electronic Certificate (ECO), the upgrading of the Customs Management system (ASYCUDA), a Simplified Trade Regime, and the Regional Customs Transit Guarantee (RCTG) scheme. As a result, Eswatini realized a 10.3% increase in total exports during the year 2019 increasing from E3.8 billion to E4.2 billion.
She added that Eswatini was one of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) beneficiary countries to develop a national strategy under the AGOA Extension and Enhancement Act of 2015. She said that this would enable Eswatini to increase its exports to the United States market and diversify its products.
Kapwepwe also acknowledged the support that COMESA provided to Eswatini in various sectors and projects, such as the construction of the Trade Hub, which was a E60 million funding under the COMESA Adjustment Facility in collaboration with the European Union. The funding also entailed the installation of irrigation equipment and piping, the development of the leather value chain, the enhancement of communication and visibility of Eswatini’s Nationally Determined Contribution, and the capacity building of women and youth entrepreneurs.
“Moreover, the COMESA Federation of Women in Business in collaboration with the Center of Financial Inclusion and World Food Programme in Eswatini provided support to strengthen the capacity of women farmers’ groups as local produce suppliers in the Home-Grown School Feeding Programme. This was done through capacity building in business skills and finance, registration of women groups in cooperatives, and an adaptation of climate-smart agriculture and precision farming technologies to increase agriculture productivity,” she explained.
Kapwepwe further noted that Eswatini has a window on the 50 million African Women Speak Digital Platform that enables women SMEs to access business information, capacity building, market opportunities, and other business-related services. The platform was launched in 2020 and aims to promote programmes that integrate women into trade and development in the region.
“In 2021, COMESA established and institutionalized the COMESA Youth Advisory Panel and endorsed by the Council of Ministers in November 2021. One of the youths from Eswatini was elected to be a member of the COMESA Youth Advisory Panel.”
The Secretary-General also expressed her gratitude to Eswatini for confirming its readiness to host the 2025 COMESA Summit of Heads of State and Government. She said that this was a great opportunity for Eswatini to showcase its potential and achievements to the rest of the region and the world.
When making her remarks Kunene thanked Kapwepwe for the warm welcome and the recognition of Eswatini’s achievements. She reaffirmed Eswatini’s commitment to the COMESA vision and mission and pledged to work with the Secretariat and other Member States to advance the common interests of the region.
“Your Excellency, I thank you for receiving me and I am in the footsteps of my predecessors. During my tenure of office I will exert my efforts in furthering the objectives of our founding fathers and in promoting the work of COMESA,” she said.