Cash-strapped Zimbabwe postpones economic summit

November 13th, 2008 - 4:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Harare, Nov 13 (DPA) A summit of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) due to take place in Zimbabwe has been postponed for the second time this year, fuelling speculation the cash-strapped country cannot afford to host it.The 13th summit of the 19-nation COMESA, which had been scheduled to take place from November 25 to December 8 in the resort town of Victoria Falls has been postponed to next year, Zimbabwe’s government announced in a statement Wednesday.

Zimbabwe is due to take over the rotating chairmanship of the body from Kenya at the summit.

The meeting had been first due to take place in May but was put on hold when presidential elections in March did not produce a decisive result. President Robert Mugabe won the run-off vote in June, but only after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the ballot to protest attacks on his supporters.

Zimbabwe’s beleaguered government insists the postponement has nothing to do with finances but is rather to allow progress on the planned merger of COMESA with two other regional groupings, the five-member East African Community and the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC).

“Of immediate priority is the harmonization of the common external tariffs of COMESA and the EAC,” Minister of Industry and International Trade, Obert Mpofu, said in the statement.

“The consultations between the two regional economic communities will go beyond December 6, 2008, which is when the COMESA customs union was scheduled to be launched (on the eve of the summit),” Mpofu said.

Mpofu said the summit would be held in the “first six months of next year.”

Last month, Christian Katsande, permanent secretary in the trade ministry, quashed speculation that the summit would either be moved to the capital Harare or postponed because the government could not afford to stage it in upmarket Victoria Falls.

“Those are blatant lies with no iota of truth. There is nothing like that. The summit is going ahead. It cannot be postponed again,” he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

COMESA member states have a combined population of over 389 million people. Some of its bigger members include Egypt, Congo, Kenya and Sudan.

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