NAIROBI, April 10 (Xinhua) -- The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), an African trade bloc, on Wednesday urged member states to embrace food safety measures to improve intra-trade in the region.
Innocent Makwiramiti, COMESA's senior private sector development officer, said failure to apply sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures will affect trade, health and food security within the 21 member states.
"We are seeking to enhance the SPS capacity of the public and private sector institutions of member states in order to gain and maintain regional and international market access for food and agricultural products," Makwiramiti told a regional forum on health standards of food commodities in Nairobi.
Makwiramiti observed that low level of food safety is among the major obstacles that may delay the success of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) from taking off.
"Despite forming AfCFTA it is unfortunate that only about 12 percent of Africa's trade is intra-regional, while most of the trade is with countries outside the regions," said Makwiramiti.
Makwiramiti noted that in comparison, intra-trade is almost 22 percent for South America, 40 percent for North America, 50 percent for Asia and 70 percent for Europe.
"The low intra-trade is not surprising, given the varied food standards and regulatory frameworks across member states and the low levels of compliance amongst regional small and medium enterprises," he added.
The official noted that for the success of the regional trading bloc, there is need for a collective decision by member states since regional integration has become an important subject matter in this era owing to the existing dynamic global environment and a multi-lateral regulatory system.
Makwiramiti said that COMESA has introduced evidence-based economic analysis to prioritize and integrate SPS investments in national planning, policy and investment frameworks within the member states.
"We have delivered technical support to address SPS capacity needs as well as facilitate market access in a number of countries," Makwiramiti told delegates attending a two-day meeting.
Esther Kimani, managing director of Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS), noted that availing food to populations is of paramount importance since Africa's population is considerably increasing and food security is becoming challenge.
Kimani called for an integrated regional approach to diffuse gaps in the current SPS systems, and identify prioritized risks, threats, and responses across the region.