In late May officials form 20 African countries met to push for freer trade
and open borders within Africa. The countries represented at the summit were
members of the Common Market for East and Southern Africa, formed in 1984 o
achieve regional free trade areas in Africa by Oct. 31, 2000 and a system of
common tariffs among member nations by 2004 (a common currency is supposed to
take affect by 2025).
“We must resist the temptation to go back to protectionism and price controls
as a solution to our problems,” Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi said at the
summit. “I believe in the United States of Africa.”
Unfortunately two major obstacles stand in the way of COMESA. The first is
Africa’s major blight – war. Various COMESA members are at war with each other
or are backing rebel movements operating against fellow COMESA members. Widespread
African conflicts pose a major stumbling block to any genuine free trade agreement.
The second obstacle is Africa’s major success story of the past couple decades
– South Africa. With sanctions lifted from South Africa after the dismantling
of apartheid, that nation has taken its place as the continent’s preeminent
economic power which doesn’t sit well with other African nations. Trade officials
in several African countries have accused South Africa of dumping goods in their
markets. Mozambique and Lesotho withdrew from COMESA recently out of fear that
South Africa will come to dominate any free trade zone in south and eastern
Of course as Adam Smith demonstrated a couple centuries sago, the principle
of comparative advantage would make it in the best interests of all parties
in Africa to trade freely even if South Africa does dominate such trade. But
since European countries still haven’t learned Smith’s lesson, it won’t be too
surprising if Africa doesn’t either. Still, the tendency toward trade liberalization,
however tentative, is a welcome trend.
Africa considers open, freer trade at summit. Michelle Boorstein, Associated
Press, May 24, 1999.