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Regional Integration on Top of SADC Summit Agenda
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The implementation of regional economic integration in line with other priority areas will be on top of the agenda at the upcoming Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit, officials said Wednesday.

The council of ministers meeting has endorsed and recommended to the summit for approval and signature of a Finance and Investment Protocol, which is critical for the region's economic integration, said Timothy Thahane, Chairperson of the council and minister of finance and economic planning of the Kingdom of Lesotho.

"The protocol will lay a firm basis for the SADC macroeconomic convergence program," said the chairperson Wednesday at a media briefing after the council of ministers meeting, adding that it is "a necessary complementary pillar to the SADC trade integration program which seeks to facilitate trade in goods and services."

According to the chairperson, the council deliberated on activities being carried out in SADC economic integration agenda and in this regard reviewed the SADC milestones that would lead to the Free Trade Area by 2008, the customs union by 2010, the common market by 2015, the monetary union by 2016 and the single currency by 2018.

In order to expedite the process of economic integration, the council has endorsed the formation of a broad based Task Force to spearhead preparations for the SADC Customs Union.

The Finance and Investment Protocol will be a complement instrument in southern Africa's integration process, taking into account the ongoing implementation of the SADC Protocol on Trade as well as targets outlined in the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan, which is the blueprint for regional integration in the next 15-20 years.

Executive Secretary of SADC Tomaz Salomao said the bloc's vision of becoming a common market by 2008, and possibly a monetary union, would remain a pipe dream if finance, investment and other macroeconomic polices were not urgently harmonized. Since its creation in 1992, SADC has promoted economic integration among member nations with South Africa driving much of the region's economy.

However, some critics have said that the SADC's integration targets may not be met, because from a business point of view, progress so far has been quite unsatisfactory and it is hard to ensure that the members adhere to the accords they sign.

Besides economic integration, the Summit scheduled for Thursday and Friday will also receive progress reports towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the operationalization of the SADC Tribunal as well as review the regional socioeconomic situation.

The leaders will also discuss pertinent regional issues such as poverty reduction, food security and HIV/AIDS. SADC is a major integration body in Africa, boasting a population of over 230 million and a combined gross domestic product of over US$200 billion.

The 14 SADC members are Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

(Xinhua News Agency August 17, 2006)

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