Uganda will host the 16th Summit of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Heads of State and Government on 23rd-24th November, 2012. The 16th COMESA Summit will be held under the “Enhancing Intra-COMESA Trade Through MSMEs Development,” as a way of emphasizing the importance and central role that Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are playing in the economies of our Member States. This is good news because it shows that the leaders of COMESA are now finally embarking on promoting MSMEs and enabling them to access the intra-regional market.
An EAC study of 2010 indicates that the MSMEs sub-sector is the biggest employer and constitutes about 90% of the private sector in the EAC region with contributions to GDP of 20% in Uganda, 33% in Tanzania and 50% in Kenya. Despite this significance of the MSMEs, the report shows that the subsector is sometimes regarded as constituting survivalist entities operated by school leavers and job seekers awaiting formal employment, retirees, retrenchees or people supplementing their low incomes from formal jobs.
The study also shows that the activities in MSMEs are mostly characterized by easy entry and exit, self-employment with a high proportion of family workers and apprentices, reliance on indigenous resources, small scale of operation with little capital and equipment, high labour intensity, limited adaptation of modern technology, low skills with acquisition of skills mostly outside the formal schooling system, lack of access to organized markets for key resources (financial markets, education and training) and lack of access to supporting services. According to the study the subsector is seen as functioning as a fallback position. This outlook has sometimes not helped to develop MSMEs especially micro into dynamic private sector activities.
It is therefore well-timed for the 16th COMESA Summit to seize this opportunity and recorgonise the role played by the MSMEs. If implemented, the measures to be put in place by the heads of state should put the COMESA region on the right path to achieving sustainable development. COMESA needs to attain competitive intra-regional trade and investment in order to achieve its development goals. The 16th COMESA Summit should therefore development measures to support Member States enhancing the capacity of entrepreneurs especially the small and medium enterprises with a view to enabling the region attain market competitiveness supported by high-tech production and inter-connected market systems.
COMESA and the Member States must support the MSMEs to enable them meaningfully become the private sector sought to be the backbone of the economy. Effective measures are required to support the MSMEs in; ensuring that production is aligned to market standards, harmonizing policies and regulations impacting on both internal and cross border trade and investment; facilitating the free and faster flow of goods and services; improving information flow of market opportunities; improving and simplifying access to trade finance; opening and widening portential investment and trade opportunities; enabling transfer of appropriate technology and promoting regional business linkages and transactions, among others
The 16th COMESA Summit is expected to among others discuss the COMESA Free Trade area, COMESA Customs Union and the EAC, SADC, COMESA Tripartite free trade area. Other issues that are likely to be on the agenda include reports on the directive by the Heads of State to the COMESA to work with member states in the establishment of Science, Technology and Innovation Parks, and priority industry clusters and the development of mechanism for exchange and sharing of experiences amongst Member States
At the sidelines of the Summit, the private sector will hold a business forum under theme “Promoting Intra-COMESA Trade through Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development – Seizing Opportunities for Innovation and Prosperity in Business”. The forum presents an opportunity for the private sector form the COMESA region to dialogue and work with Governments in determining policy interventions necessary to create an enabling business environment. This forum should help bring out relevant regulatory reforms and interventions that for COMESA to undertake in promoting the growth and emancipation of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The forum should also review and come up with clear and robust innovative ideas and conventional ways of strengthening the SMEs in order to attain meaningful intra-regional trade and sustainable regional development.