Addressing the 21st Comesa Heads of State and Government Summit a while ago in Cairo, Egypt, Chilima said Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the need and importance of providing digital solutions as the only way to create resilience in trade.
“I am delighted that Comesa has already started embracing ICT in its work programme. These include the automation of customs procedures, establishment of online reporting and monitoring system for non-tariff barriers,” he told the high-level indaba.
Recently, Comesa Secretariat launched a 50 Million Women Speak digital platform supporting women to do business online, an initiative which Chilima said is a step in the right direction.
The Vice president said his strong conviction is that digitalization can deliver public services more efficiently, effectively, and equitably allowing more sustainable and inclusive development.
“It can reduce the cost of doing business and facilitate more flow of goods and services. It can reduce unemployment,” said Chilima, who is also scheduled to hold one on one meetings with Egyptian government officials on Thursday, November 25, 2021.
Added Chilima: “Digitalization can also reduce illiteracy in our respective countries. Imagine a student in a remote village accessing the same educational content as the one in the Capital City and that is where Comesa and other African countries ought to be.”
But he lamented that while the region is pondering on embracing digitalization, Chilima said there are a myriad of other teething challenges gripping Comesa which must be dealt with if the region is to fully embrace the digitalization concept.
He cited inaccessibility of reaching small and remote communities, and lack of basic knowledge and skills and supportive infrastructure, among others.
Suggesting solutions to the challenges, Chilima said Comesa urgently needs to attract and invest in the best talent, prioritize development of ICT, encourage innovations that attract lower costs, as well as provide policies that can lower the barriers to digital transformation.
Earlier, Chilima told the summit to develop a ‘robust’ economic recovery plan as a response to the devastation that Covid-19 pandemic has caused within the trade bloc.
He complained that Covid-19 pandemic has reversed most economic gains that Comesa member states had achieved over years.
As a direct consequence of the pandemic, the value of Comesa’s total exports to the world decreased by 27 percent from $123.4 billion in 2019 to $90.3 billion in 2020 while the value of intra-Comesa total exports declined by 11 percent from $10.9 billion in 2019 to $9.7 billion in 2020.
Today, Egypt has taken over the chairmanship of Comesa Heads of State and Government also known as the Comesa authority, effectively implying that Egyptian president President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is now Comesa chairperson, taking over from President Andry Rajoelina of Madagascar.
Comesa has a population of 583 million people and an economy of $805 billion.
The Summit is converging under the theme "Building Resilience Through Strategic Digital Economic Integration."