Kampala: Uganda looks at itself as a tested mature state ready to live by its commitments. This forum that we all know as the Council of Ministers is instrumental in fulfilling our aspirations to move deeper in the integration process in our region. It is this council that makes the key recommendations for the authority comprising the heads of government and government and the recommendations generated by this council have over the years given direction to this regional organisation to make positive steps in our integration process.
I have no doubt that as we gather here today, to deliberate yet again on a number of issues, that include trade, customs and monetary affairs, infrastructure development, science and technology, gender, labour and social development, immigration, peace and security, law and order, you will expend all efforts in the service of our people. We should keep in mind that the aspect of peace and security amongst member states and with our neighbours is paramount to achieving all the other objectives.
Many member states in COMESA are still lagging behind in development because much of their time has been consumed in periods of restlessness and wars. It is unfortunate that many times our energies and resources expended in the search for stability in our region are misunderstood and abused by some systems who seem to be threatened by our determination to unite and expedite our business as a region.
Honourable ministers and distinguished delegates, the COMESA market integration agenda is a building block to a large economic and trading block of Africa Economic Union. In order to achieve the aspirations of a continental integration, and the growth of the business, we in the COMESA region should overcome some of the barriers that are faced by some individual member states in achieving full integration and economic transformation.
These barriers include multiple stoppages along our trade routes, cumbersome customs procedures, very low standards for our products, and policy inconsistencies. If we surmount these barriers, we should be able to harness our market that is made up of a population of 389 million, an annual import bill of around $ 32 billion and an export revenue of $ 82 billion.
In fact, we would be able to harness markets beyond our own through integrating regional industry and building regional value chains. It is through this channel that we would realise our aspirations for the Tripartite Free Trade Area of East African Community, COMESA and SADC which brings new market opportunities to our individual countries.
In this way, we would collectively enhance intra COMESA trade through micro, small and medium enterprise development in tandem with the theme of the 16th Summit.
How do we compare COMESA to other economic players in the globalisation process that is United States of America, China, India and European Union?
By the end of 2011, the United States of America population was estimated at 313 million with a GDP per capita of $ 48,000. The composition of GDP by sector was agriculture 1 percent, industry 19.2 percent, and services 79.6 percent.
In terms of trade, the USA total exports by the end of last year stood at $ 1,497 billion. Major Unites States of America exporting destinations were Canada, Mexico, China and Japan while the total USA import Bill stood at $ 2.236 trillion mainly originating from China, Canada, Mexico, Japan and Germany.
The China population was estimated at 1,340 million at the beginning of this year while for the other micro economic indicators by last year for China were estimated as follows: GDP per capita was $ 8,500. The composition by GDP per sector was agriculture 10 percent, industry 46.6 percent, and services 43.3 percent. In terms of trade, China had total exports of $ 1,904 billion with the major exporting destinations being United States of America, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Germany.
China total import bill for the year 2011 was $ 1.66 trillion originating mainly from Japan, South Korea, United States of America, Germany and Australia.
The population of India by the end of 2011 was estimated at 1, 210 million people. The GDP per capita was estimated at $3,700. The composition of GDP by sector was agriculture 17.2 percent, industry 26.4 percent, and services 56.4 percent.
In terms of trade, the total in their exports by the end of last year stood at $ 307.2 billion with major export destinations being United Arab Emirates, United States of America, China and Singapore. The import bill stood at $ 475.3 billion and mainly originating from China, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, United States of America and Switzerland.
Where is the African region in all these transactions that attract so much cash flows?
If we do not strengthen regional integration and common market strategies, we shall remain onlookers and bystanders when the rest of the world is enjoying business.
The European Union is made up of 27 member countries with a total population estimated at 503.8 million people and a GDP per capita of $ 34,500 and the GDP break down is agriculture 1.8 percent, industry 24.9 percent, and services 73.2 percent. European total exports by 2010 stood at $ 1.791 trillion and imports at $ 2 trillion.
So it is imperative that we advance our integration agenda so that we can catch up hopefully with the rest of the world.
How do we move COMESA region forward?
This year's theme of enhancing intra-COMESA trade through micro, small and medium enterprise development is strategic as MSMEs form the main engine of growth of our respective economies. By focusing on the different value chains of production in our countries beginning from enhancement of infrastructure development, improvement of distribution chains, financial credit intermediation, improvement on product standards and quality assurance would lead to a better business operating environment and will reduce the cost of doing business in the COMESA region and would make the region more competitive.
Honourable participants, we can score further on the 19 years of existence of the COMESA region and deepen further in areas of regional integration to boost the free movement of goods, capital, services and labour.
Furthermore, COMESA can build on previous Council of Ministers deliberations, promote the simplified trade regime, regional payment and settlement systems, COMESA monetary institute, operationalisation of COMESA infrastructure fund, fiscal surveillance system, accelerating economic growth and transformation in COMESA, East African Community and SADC tripartite region.
In agriculture to foster food security and the regional food balance sheet, fisheries development, forestry development, climate change initiatives, enhancement of sanitary and phyto-sanitary programs in the gender sector, mainstreaming of the gender and hosting the COMESA women empowerment fund we have not given much focus on specialisation in the areas of our comparative advantage.
For instance, Uganda has the ability to feed the whole of the COMESA region if all energy is concentrated on such specialisation.
Finally, I would like to once again pledge Uganda's support as a country to the COMESA program and continued commitment to continental integration of the COMESA region.
Once again, I welcome you to Uganda and invite you to enjoy the legendary hospitality and gifts of nature of this pearl of Africa. With these few remarks, I wish you fruitful deliberations and it is my great pleasure and singular duty to declare this 31st COMESA Council of Ministers meeting open.
* Text of speech by Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, at opening of COMESA Kampala, Speke Resort Munyonyo.