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Mrs Effie Psalida, AFRITAC South Coordinator and Director of Africa Training Institute
Mrs Burcu Hacibedel, African Division, Institute for Capacity Development, IMF and colleagues trainers
Participants from the African continent
Members of the Press
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am very pleased to be with you today for the opening session of this seminar on economic issues in regional integration.
I am glad that so many participants from the African continent could attend this seminar on such a topical issue .
The European Union is often viewed as a model of regional integration. Europe was founded as an Economic Community back in 1957, and on 9 May this year we celebrated 60 years of our founding Treaty. And we have grown from 6 countries in 1957 to 28; from 168 million people to 507 million. We have evolved into a large internal market with a single currency as well as a political Union.
The European Union remains the largest trading bloc in the world with over 20% of world GDP. We are simultaneously the biggest source, and destination of, foreign direct investment in the world.
Regional integration in Europe gave a powerful boost to Europe’s growth, and brought stability as well as prosperity. Therefore, at the level of the EU, regional integration has become a shared goal with all our partners.
Regional integration is embedded in the Cotonou agreement, the basis for EU partnership with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.
Africa has already taken giant steps to further its political and economic integration. You have the African Union constructed as a continental organisation with a mandate for regional integration within Africa.
However there is a need for sub-regional organisations that can act as building blocks for the continental integration.
This is where the work of duly mandated regional organisations like COMESA, Eastern African Community, ECOWAS, IGAD, IOC and SADC becomes critical, as they are in a position to be these regional building blocks on the African continent.
The path to regional integration is quite challenging, which is why the EU has been supporting these regional economic organisations with its funds.
In 2015, the EU and regional organisations in the Eastern African, Southern African and Indian Ocean region signed an agreement for 1.3 billion euros of cooperation in three priority areas, namely:
The envelope allocated to regional economic integration amounts to 834 million euros, which is 63% of the total envelope. This is testimony to the importance that the EU gives to regional economic integration on the African continent.
I can quote two projects which were instrumental to promote economic integration, which is one of the core mandates of COMESA and ECOWAS.
Firstly, the Regional Integration Support Project of 30 million euros contributed to economic integration by developing capacity in policy formulation, implementation and monitoring of regional integration.
Second, the Regional Integration Support Mechanism provided direct budget support to the member states of COMESA to move forward in their integration agenda.
Ladies and Gentlemen
This brings me to an important point that is very dear to me: Economic Partnership Agreements with the EU. These have a strong potential for boosting trade and growth.
They are also conducive to greater regional integration within their respective regions and act as stepping stones for continental integration.
The EU has concluded a number of Economic Partnership Agreements with different partners and regions. Participating African states selected their own EPAs’ regional configurations and determined the level of ambition of the regional negotiations.
For example, we have the longest standing EPA partnership with countries in the region namely Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar and Zimbabwe, since 2009. The EU signed an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) on 10 June 2016 with the SADC EPA Group comprising Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland.
Strong commitment to full implementation will ensure that EPAs result in increased trade between the EU and Africa with positive spin-offs for intra-African trade and continental integration.
The year 2017 marks an important year for Europe and Africa relations. A number of discussions for the future of our partnership with Africa that are important to mention here:
The EU-Africa Summit will be held in Côte d'Ivoire in November 2017. The Summit's theme; Investing in Youth, is coherent with the African Union priority for 2017 of "Harnessing Demographic Dividends for accelerated Youth Empowerment".
This summit provides a critical opportunity for African and European Leaders to reshape and deepen the Africa-EU partnership. It should launch a political commitment of the two sides to act together when facing global challenges and define how the bilateral relationship can be strengthened.
I am sure that regional integration will be an important topic for discussions during this summit.
The EU has been working extensively with African partners to develop the business environment and investment climate, advance Africa's economic integration process at national, regional and continental level, as well as to crowd in public and private investments across the continent. Boosting in particular private investments in complement to scarce public resources is indispensable and lies at the heart of the External Investment Plan.
In the joint communication to the European Parliament and the Council for a renewed impetus of the Africa-EU Partnership, the EU proposes to take the partnership a step further, notably to support Africa's ambition to build a true inner-African market.
At the beginning of my speech I referred to the Cotonou Agreement. The current framework ends in 2020 and a reflection is currently on going to renew the EU's longstanding partnership with ACP countries, in particular the Africa pillar.
The EU launched in 2016 a Joint Communication on 'A renewed partnership with the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific', which will inform the negotiations that will start in 2018. Regional integration is an important pillar of the EU Communication.
We will like to see progress on African regional integration, at continental and regional level, with a particular focus on trade facilitation, customs modernisation and access to regional and global markets among others.
On 19 May, the EU adopted a new European consensus on development which sets out a new framework for development cooperation for the EU and its member states. This new development policy provides for the EU to continue to promote trade and regional integration as key drivers of growth and poverty reduction in developing countries.
As you can see, regional integration, and especially regional economic integration, is key for the EU.
I can only congratulate the Africa Training Institute and IMF for having organised this training course, and for having given me the opportunity to address you today.
As lead donor to AFRITAC South, I believe that AFRITAC South work in this region represents a unique opportunity for the EU and the IMF to work together in furthering the regional integration agendas already undertaken under the various regional organisations like COMESA, EAC, IOC and SADC.
In this context, we have encouraged AFRITAC South to mainstream regional integration and harmonisation objectives of these organisations in the Centre's activities over the next few years.
I am very pleased to announce that we are currently formalising the EU support to AFRITAC South for its Phase II that is due to start in 2017 and will run up to 2022.
It is expected that through this EU support to AFRITAC South, together we can achieve important results in the field of regional economic integration.
The EU and the IMF are strategic Partners in Promoting Capacity Development and in achieving sustained progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
I hope that these two weeks of training will equip the participants with the necessary tools for understanding the benefits of regional integration, so that they can go back home and be advocates for regional integration in their respective countries and regions.
I thank you for your kind attention and wish you a fruitful seminar.