Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe launched a new customs union at a major African economic summit on Sunday, hoping it will boost investment and strengthen economic ties on the world's poorest continent.
Under the union, the 19 members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) stretching from Swaziland in the south to Egypt in the north, will impose the same tariffs on goods from outside the region.
Members will have up to 3 years to implement the new tariffs. Trade in the region amounted to $15.2 billion in 2008.
"Our message to investors worldwide and to those of our region is clear: we have a regional market for you," Mugabe said.
Mugabe's new unity government with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is battling to raise funds for its $8.3 billion recovery programme. So far, the administration has raised over $1 billion in credit lines for the private sector from African institutions, including COMESA.
Tsvangirai is on a tour in Europe and is expected to visit the United States this week as well and is likely to ask for financial assistance.
"Ways to survive"
When opening the two-day summit in the resort town of Victoria Falls, Mugabe urged African countries to end conflicts and boost development on the continent.
He said member states must put money into the group's COMESA Fund to help cut dependence on foreign assistance.
Seven heads of state and government were in attendance.
When taking over the helm of COMESA, Mugabe said Africa must raise its industrial capacity by exploiting its mineral resources, rich soils and human skills.
Without mentioning any country by name, he also said Africa had to confront conflicts to realise its potential.
"Conflict is a serious cancer in our region," he said.
He said while Africa had made some significant economic progress, it was lagging behind other continents in developing its transport network, energy and power generation, water resources, education, health and housing facilities.
"We have serious challenges ahead of us," Mugabe said.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said: "The world is in recession and we need to find ways to survive."
The summit is also attended by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
Ousted Madagascar leader Marc Ravalomanana, who lost power in a military-backed opposition revolt, was also present, urging COMESA to help him return to power.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Haziran 2009, 16:30