A regional trade court for 20 nations in eastern and southern Africa held its inaugural session Monday, March 19, creating a new body that will have the power to overturn national laws and court rulings.
The new court, based in Lusaka, will interpret the treaty that created the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), said Akilano Akiwunu, a Kenyan who is the court's top justice.
The court will also arbitrate differences over implementation of the COMESA's Free Trade Area (FTA), which was launched last year by nine of the group's 20 members, Akiwunu said.
"The launch of the FTA will increase the importance of this court. It will also adjudicate on matters brought by member states as well as individuals from the member countries," Akiwunu said in opening the court's first session.
Zambia's director of public prosecution, Mukelebai Mukelebai, called the court COMESA's greatest achievement, because it creates an international court. "This court will also override national courts and tribunals. National courts and tribunals may be referring other matters to this court, which is very important," Mukelebai said.
Several ministers and judges from COMESA member states attended the official opening ceremony.
The court is expected to hear its first cases Tuesday, including two trade conflicts between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and a dispute between the COMESA-created Preferential Trade Area bank and the trade entity itself.
Nine of COMESA's 20 members launched Africa's first free-trade zone on October 31 last year. The free trade zone will remove tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers, and aims to introduce a single currency and common central bank by the year 2025.
The nine countries that have signed up to the free trade pact are Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The COMESA grouping of countries has a total population of 350 million and a combined GDP of about $153 billion. — (AFP, Lusaka)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)