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“Leveraging New Opportunities for R egional Integration in Eastern Africa”

A three-day meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts (ICSOE) was held at the Asmara Palace Hotel from 5 to 7 November. The 23rd meeting was jointly organized by the Government of the State of Eritrea and the United Nations Economic Com¬mission for Africa (ECA) in Eastern Africa.
As the chair this year, Eritrea hosted the regional meeting for the first time. The three-day meeting included reports and discussions regard¬ing the African Continental Free Trade Area’s (AfCFTA) implementation in Eastern Africa, blue economy and boosting regional tourism. Participants discussed issues related to the creation of job opportunities for the Eastern African region as it happens to be one of the fastest growing regions in the continent. Discussions centred on the challenges Eastern African countries are facing in regards with job opportunities and trade between the neighbouring countries.
Today we talk to Ms. Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and Mr. Andrew Mold, Officer-in- Charge, UNECA office for Eastern Africa, regarding the meeting. Ms. Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of UNECA

The East Africa region is the fastest growing region on the continent. The growth rate is estimated to be 6.4% today and we expect it to continue. We need to create comfortable job opportunities in East Africa, ensure that all the youth are able to grow in a prosperous Africa. We believe that the AfCFTA is part of this blue print to create those jobs. Directly we can create 2 million jobs and another 2 million indirectly. We are hoping with the infrastructures that are needed we will be able to create as many jobs as possible.

In a time when the Eastern Africa Region is enjoying peace, it is an amazing time to be in East Africa. The AfCFTA couldn’t be taken on if we didn’t have stability. We are in Eritrea, Asmara today to have the discussion. I think this is part of what the AfCFTA is about, not only to involve the eastern African counties in Regional integration but also to connect people through economy, peace and prosperity. We look forward now to getting all the East African countries to sign up for the AfCFTA to help create a prosperous Africa in a short term and realize the dreams.

I have been in Eritrea just recently, and my impression is very good. I am impressed with how friendly the people are. Eritrea has a lot to offer. We have been talking today about the potential the country has regarding tourism and ports. We are in a sub-region that has 420,000,000 people with Eritrea being a much smaller economy. We believe that joining the sub-regional market would create a space Eritrea needs to sell its products and also to ingrate in an economy that is moving very fast.

Mr. Andrew Mold, Officer-in-Charge, UNECA office for Eastern Africa

It is the first time we are having this regional meeting in Asmara. The report that I just presented was about the state of the regional economy and progress in the developmental goals section. During my presentation, I tried to stress on the various challenges that occur within the region. To mention one, the job creation opportunities for the region are much slower than the rate of economic expansion over the past decade. We did a calculation on this topic and it is estimated that the region will have to sustain at least 6% growth rate to create sufficient jobs.

The demographic dividend is actually resulting in a situation where the job market has expanded very rapidly. So we have got an additional 8.5 million people joining the East Africa job market. We also discussed challenges such as trade and intra-African trade. All of the 14 countries except one actually have very large merchandise trade. So, shifting towards higher level inter-regional trade is important for a number of reasons. One of the reasons is that there are huge domestic demands in the region. Growth is being lit by consumption but that demand is being met increasingly by imports, particularly from Asia; nearly 70% of all imports in the Eastern Africa region are from Asia. I was stressing the fact that inter-regional exports tend to be very difficult to the composition of trade with the rest of the world. If we wish to move forward with regional agendas for industrialization and diversification of economies we really need to push the regional trade integration.

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