Pretoria: South Africa remains committed to regional economic integration in Africa and the country's economic policy will continue to promote free trade in the continent. This was a message from International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashaba during her department's Budget Vote on Thursday, 22 April 2010.
She said South Africa's work, as part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) should build on the free trade arrangement achieved in 2008 by focusing on boosting regional production capacity and facilitate cross border trade.
"We also believe the time has come to extend preferential markets across Southern and Eastern Africa through the Tripartite Free Trade Area that will draw together SADC and East African Community," Nkoana-Mashabane said.
The work of the African Union (AU) should be complemented by strong bilateral relations which are focused on tangible results with other African countries. "To this end, we are currently strengthening our bilateral mechanisms to ensure that they work better for our mutual benefit," she said.
In another milestone, regional leaders took a decision recently to integrate the NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development) into the AU and establish the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NPCA) as a technical body of the AU. The new structure would focus on the implementation of the NEPAD programme.
It will give focused attention to the implementation of the regional integration programs and projects whilst the Africa Union Commission will continue to deal with policy and serve as the secretariat of the AU.
Nkoana-Mashabane said the establishment of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), operating from Midrand, was a step forward in giving all the people of Africa a voice in the running of the affairs of the continent. "As provided for in its founding protocol, the PAP has to be transformed from a consultative to a legislative body. In transforming the PAP we will need to take into account its experience and history since its establishment in March 2004 with the view to building a strong, efficiently run and effective PAP at the service of the African people," she said.
She acknowledged that a lot still needed to be done to bring about stability in most of the continent's countries.
"The gains we have made on the continent have not been without setbacks, especially in the area of peace and security, including the resurgence of coups and other forms of unconstitutional change of government.
"We are unanimous in the African Union on the urgent need for the strengthening of our response to situations of unconstitutional change of government, and close loopholes in our existing instruments and mechanisms," she said.
The African Union has declared 2010 as the "Year of Peace and Security in Africa", and Nkoana-Mashabane said South Africa will redouble its efforts in the resolution of conflicts on the continent.