Q.As the Director of the COMESA region, what, in your opinion, will be the future of trade and commerce in post-Covid era?
The COVID-19 pandemic constituted a key discussion point in the just concluded COMESA policy, owing to its predominant negative impacts on regional integration and more so on the movement of goods and services. The renewed attention towards deepening liberalization of the services sector as evidenced by the steps towards concluding negotiations of all the identified seven priority sectors. These are: business, communication, financial, transport, construction, energy-related and tourism services. Significant progress has been done especially on automation of customs operations and digitalization of processes and procedures, simplification of cross-border trade to support women and small-scale traders and monitoring and addressing non-tariff barriers to trade. On infrastructure, COMESA is collaborating at the tripartite level – with the East African Community and the Southern Africa Development Community – to facilitate trade and transport of goods and services. This is done by adopting the harmonised tripartite guidelines on trade and transport facilitation guidelines for safe, efficient and cost-effective movement of goods and services.
Q.How do you think India handled the Covid situation? The success is being looked at from every corner of the world. What do you think is the reason?
The advantage of India was that it started taking measures at the early stages of the spread. Had our Government not implemented the various stages of lockdowns, we would be staring at a much more serious situation. The various levels of government offices which were conceptualized at the National level was brilliantly executed at the root level. All government departments have displayed a stellar commitment to save lives. Given the population size and geographic spread, the 100 percent implementation of rules during the pandemic has been remarkable in the case of India.
Q.Keeping trade open in the face of the pandemic has been the subject of trade initiatives led by various institutions. What initiatives are you taking and how will the participation of our markets going to open trade with the African community?
We are focusing on a fast-track implementation of the protocol on the free movement of persons and easing regional movement. Specifically, the movement of professionals like medical personnel, engineers, technicians, essential goods and services across borders and the development of a regional strategy to encourage and promote domestic and regional tourism. Despite the challenges, the pandemic created opportunities for firms to innovate, develop new strategies and products, for example, through repurposing production lines to produce COVID-19 essential products.