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The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)

COMESA was formed in 1994 to replace the former Preferential Trade Area (PTA) arrangement which had existed earlier. COMESA was established “as an organization of free independent sovereign states which have agreed to co-operate in developing their natural and human resources for the good of all their people.” With its 19 member states, population of over 389 million and annual import bill of around US$32 billion, and with an export bill of US$82 billion, COMESA forms a major market place for both internal and external trading.


By signing up to COMESA, countries agreed on the need to create and maintain:

  • A full free trade area guaranteeing the free movement of goods and services produced within COMESA and the removal of all tariffs and non-tariff barriers;
  • A customs union under which goods and services imported from non-COMESA countries will attract an agreed single tariff all COMESA States;
  • free movement of capital and investment supported by the adoption of common investment practices 50 as to create a more favourable investment climate for the entire COMESA region:
  • A gradual establishment of a payments union based on the COMESA Cleaning House and the eventual establishment of a common monetary union with a common currency;
  • The adoption of a common visa arrangement, including the right of establishment leading eventually to free movement of bona fide persons.

The bloc is now Uganda’s leading export market, accounting for 52 percent of all export earnings. It is further anticipated that with the recent membership to the COMESA Free Trade Area, there are better opportunities for Uganda’s exports to the bloc.


In 2015, Uganda and other COMESA member states started the process of ratifying the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) to enable all economies gain better market access in Africa.  In April 2019, the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement secured the minimum threshold of 22 ratifications required for it to become effective. The agreement went into force on May 30th 2019. The objectives of the CFTA are to:

  1. Create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African Customs Union;
  2. Expand intra African trade through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization and facilitation regimes and instruments across RECs and across Africa in general;
  3. c) Resolve the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships in RECs and expedite the regional and continental integration processes; and
  4. Enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through exploiting opportunities for scale production, continental market access and better reallocation of resources.

With an aim of promoting industrialization across the member states, Zambia, Zimbabwe join to implement the Joint Industrialization Strategy. Zambia and Zimbabwe signed a Memorandum of Understanding to implement a joint industrialization project spearheaded by COMESA Secretariat. The joint industrialization project will promote self-sustained, balanced and inclusive economic growth between the two countries. It will provide opportunities for the private sector to benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Area through enhanced competitiveness. Additionally, COMESA secretariat launched the 50 Million African Women Speak platform. Through this platform, COMESA secretariat focused at building deep and beneficial connections among women on the continent for them to tap into their knowledge and resources to start, grow, scale up and sustain their businesses and ultimately achieve economic empowerment.

COMESA and the European Union signed a EUR 7.6 million financing agreement for the COMESA Institutional Capacity Building Programme. The objective of the programme is to deepen regional integration in the COMESA region, and to enhance effectiveness and efficiency of the COMESA Secretariat in the implementation of regional cooperation projects and engagement with its Member States. Further, the COMESA Institutional Capacity Building Programme will increase the coordination, management (operational and financial), implementation and procurement capacity of the Secretariat and enhance the production and dissemination of harmonised and gender responsive regional statistics.

To strengthen cross border trade across member states, COMESA Secretariat and the Government of Malawi signed a 3.54 million Euros agreement that sub-delegates the implementation of coordinated border management activities under the broader Trade Facilitation Programme at Mchinji border post between Zambia and Malawi on the Malawian side. Some of the major activities to be implemented under this agreement include upgrading the customs e-management system and bandwidth, improving inter-agency connectivity, implementation of the Trade and Transport Corridor Management System, capacity building, training and sensitization of National Trade Facilitation Committee and Border Agencies among others.