COMESA member states should consider strengthening enforcement institutions to combat illicit trade within their respective national territories, says the group’s Business Council (CBC) chairperson Amany Asfour.
Dr Asfour revealed that illicit trade in East Africa alone has led to the community losing more than US$330 million annually.
She said the illicit trade had greatly undermined the viability of local manufacturing industries.
“Enhancing collaboration between the public and private sectors and implementing the proposed COMESA anti-illicit trade protocol are crucial to fighting these crimes,” she said.
Dr Asfour said illicit trade was a complex debate that had been a major “handicap” of private sector development and competitiveness in the region.
She said fair competition and a business friendly environment were essential for the growth of business, adding that about 70 percent of the market share was lost annually because of counterfeit products.
She said illicit trade was a global problem leading to serious adverse economic and social impacts including revenue losses, unfair competition, health risks and huge financial losses for companies, industry and governments.
And COMESA secretary general Sindiso Ngwenya called for effective border management systems, interagency cooperation and information sharing that would address cross border illicit trade.
Mr Ngwenya cited the COMESA virtual trade facilitation system, a software application that ensures, reduction of time loss across borders, efficiency in auto-tracking of cargo, revenue collection, and reduced opportunities for corruption along the corridors.
He said member states should collaborate to curb the illicit trade which had continued to hamper the growth of industrial development in the region. This was discussed during the 10th COMESA Business partnership forum on the ways of tackling illicit trade under the theme, “Taking action on illicit trade as an industrial competitiveness agenda” at the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa last week.
The forum adopted a public-private approach to combating illicit trade in the COMESA region, and this includes having an open debate with key multi-stakeholders from small medium enterprises, corporate industries, policy makers, intellectual property decision-makers, customs authorities and bureaus of standards.
COMESA is the largest regional economic organization in Africa, with 19 member states, including Zambia.