Ministers Pave Way for Free Trade Area

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By Petronella Sibeene

WINDHOEK

SADC Ministers responsible for transportation will today conclude a three-day conference, which deliberated on the region’s corridors, two months before the launch of the Free Trade Area.

The SADC Corridors Review Programme and Investment Conference started on Monday.

Corridors are crucial in the implementation of the Free Trade Area to be launched in August 2008, and a Customs Union by 2010.

Acting Chief Director from the SADC Secretariat Remigius Makumbe said at a press briefing yesterday that ministers responsible for transport will today review the status of the corridors and their adverse impact in facilitating regional trade and economic development.

Identification of priority corridors and investment areas in designated corridors will also be looked into.

Twelve countries in the region have indicated their readiness for the implementation of Free Trade Area except for Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)-post war countries whose transport infrastructure is still in the rehabilitation stages.

Makumbe added that Namibia and Zambia are key countries in connecting Angola and DRC.

The Secretariat together with its stakeholders have undertaken their audit and according to Makumbe, it is feasible that the Free Trade Area will be launched in August.

This will be followed by yet another launch of the Customs Union in 2010 and a Common Market by 2015.

He estimated the investment for rehabilitation and expansion of transport infrastructure by 2015 in the medium term to stand at U$20 billion.
As the region gears itself for the launch, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Works and Transport George Simataa says it is crucial that all barriers are removed.

These include transport infrastructure development and financing.
Removal of the barriers will deepen member states’ integration and establish open trade systems in SADC, he reiterated.

The Permanent Secretary said, “A number of models have been developed around the world resulting in considerable reduction of the cost of doing business and enhanced competitiveness of our products in international markets.”

Namibia, Simataa told delegates, has identified key corridors that will ensure the country’s total connectivity with its neighbours.

Key corridors include the Trans Kunene that links the country to Angola, Trans Caprivi Corridor linking to Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and Trans Kalahari that links the Capital City to Botswana and beyond.

Apart from Namibian corridors, other regional corridors being developed by SADC include Dar es Salaam Corridor, Mtwara Development Corridor, Nacala Development Corridor, Shire-Zambezi Waterway, Beira Corridor, Limpopo Corridor, Maputo Corridor, Libombo Development Corridor, Lesotho Railway, North-South Corridor, Lobito Corridor and the Malanje Corridor.

Operations at these regional corridors, according to Makumbe, are mainly hampered by infrastructure bottlenecks such as poor roads, bridges, curves, border infrastructure layout and logistics.

Meanwhile, Simataa said during the conference, Namibia not only offered land to neighbouring land-locked countries to develop dry ports in Namibia, but also identified railheads.

So far, the Tsumeb railway line has been extended to Ondangwa and ongoing work will lead it to Oshikango-Namibia/Angola border that will link with Mocamedes railway.

“Our dream of constructing the Windhoek-Luanda-Kinshasa highway looks set to be transformed into a reality, as part of the Trans-African Highway Master Plan,” he added.

Namport last year expanded its storage facilities in view of increasing demand to store transit cargo destined for other southern African countries.

“It is crucial that we accelerate this process and develop ports to ensure that we have the capacity to expeditiously handle regional imports and exports,” Simataa said.

The cargo volumes along the various corridor routes have increased significantly during the past three years and have spearheaded the need for increased capacities along the Trans-Caprivi, Trans-Kalahari and Trans-Cunene corridors, the Walvis Bay Corridor Group (WBCG) Business Development department said.

Statistics recorded in previous years (2005/2006) show that corridor volumes have grown by more than 55% on tonnage compared to the previous year (2004/2005).

Simataa said Namibia intends to expand and modernize facilities at the port of Walvis Bay.

Delegates are scheduled to visit the Port of Walvis Bay tomorrow.

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