By Peter Ssebulime
The European Union and COMESA (Common Market for East and Southern Africa) signed a Euros 8.8m Contribution Agreement to increase private sector participation in sustainable regional and global value chains through an improved investment-business climate and enhanced competitiveness in the COMESA region.
The funds will be used to implement the Regional Enterprise Competitiveness and Access to Markets Program (RECAMP), focusing on agro-processing, horticulture and leather products. RECAMP will also support pre-selected value chains based on the potential to generate value addition, job creation and attraction or investments to the region.
The EU Ambassador to Zambia and Permanent Representative to COMESA, HE Jacek Jankowski and Secretary General to COMESA Chileshe Kapwepwe signed the Agreement.
RECAMP will address critical issues, such as provision of business information, facilitating market linkages, harmonizing regional industrial policies and creating a conducive business environment to attract investments.
It will strive to ensure collaboration with activities of national trade support institutions and business development and service organizations in Member States as they provide services to value chains as part of their mandate.
These include product development; facilitate technology transfer, provision of business intelligence and connection to buyers. The program will identify champions or lead firms within the selected value chains that have both backward and forward linkages with SMEs and other intermediary firms in order to enhance effect coordination reduce coordination failures and improve competitiveness.
In the remarks, Ms. Kapwepwe said the program will make efforts to enhance the capacities and skills of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises to make them capable players in value-chain development.
“A significant number of MSMEs, especially women and youth owned enterprises, are vulnerable when it comes to participating in value-chains networks at the national, regional and global level because of their competitiveness,” she said.
It is estimated that there are between 3.5 to 5 million SMEs in the region, but their growth and competitiveness are constrained by various bottlenecks such as lack of access to finance and related services, restrictive business environment, lack of affordable technology among others. A significant number of thematic women entrepreneurs.
In particular Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the region play a pivotal role in their contribution to employment and Gross Domestic Products (GDP) or member states which is estimated at between 20 – 25%.
Ambassador Jankowski assured the EU’s commitment to continue the partnership with COMESA to ensure that regional integration remains as inclusive as possible in view of the challenges posed by climate change.
“Increasing exploitation of natural resources and the environment, and in view of demographic trends makes prioritizing investments in value chains that are environmentally sensitive, socially sound and economically viable,” he said.
RECAMP is supported under the 11th European Development Fund COMESA sub envelope. The Program is in line with EU and COMESA policies in support of the private sector, with a budget of EUR 8.8 million and a duration of 48 months. Ministers and senior government officials witnessed the signing.