Comesa wants national parliaments to enact laws that discourage bans on the food trade.
Bans on import and export of staple food, particularly maize, have become common among member states, discouraging private sector investment in agriculture over fears that policy shifts could destabilise markets.
Some members like Tanzania and Zambia have recently announced ad hoc measures affecting either import or export of certain food crops. The most affected is maize, the region’s staple food.
“The implications of such decisions include market gluts at the producer level, resulting in informal trade channels including smuggling, corruption and ultimately higher transaction costs and consumer prices,” said Argent Chuula, Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa chief executive.
At the Eastern and Southern Africa Parliamentary Policy Seminar on Import and Export Bans held recently in Lusaka, Zambia, Comesa said it would work with Members of Parliament from its member states to ensure a predictive policy on food trade is implemented.
Comesa also wants to establish a formal framework of working with regional parliaments to evaluate, monitor and enforce some of its policies.
Comesa will now compel member states to have a predictive policy, following a resolution reached at the recent meeting between the bloc and MPs.
“We also need up-to-date documentation on food production data to aid food trade. Country A should know what county B has or does not have,” said Mr Chuula.
To enforce its policies, Comesa will work with MPs. Currently, there is no link between Comesa and regional parliaments.
“There is a political disconnect at the Comesa level. The bloc is seen as elitist — a club of ministers and presidents — yet its policies are meant to benefit the wider public,” said Kenyan MP Benjamin Washiali.
Another policy change will involve participation of the private sector in building up strategic food reserves. This will be done by providing an enabling environment for a warehouse receipt system that works, the key component of commodity exchanges.
Intra-Comesa trade in goods increased from $3.1 billion in 2011 to $19.3 billion in 2013. This excludes informal cross-border trade in goods estimated at about 40 per cent of total trade and services. These, on average, contribute 60 per cent of the GDP of Comesa member states.