Challenges of multiple membership to sub-regional trading blocs: The case of Zimbabwe
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There is an overlap of membership among Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in Southern Africa to an extent unparalleled anywhere else in the world. This has a bearing on the costs and benefits particularly of deeper integration. Moreover, membership in more than one Customs Union (CU) is technically impossible. As most RECs wish to move to a CU, member states with multiple membership have to strike a balance of the costs and benefits of belonging to one or another CU grouping. The present study discusses the implications of overlapping membership to sub- regional trading blocs with Zimbabwe as the case study and how its involvement in various regional blocs has affected its participation in trade. The research methodology for this study was qualitative. This method enabled the researcher to collect indepth information from knowledgeable people on multiple membership to sub- regional trading blocs in order to provide an understanding of the challenges, strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. Information was drawn from case studies, face to face interviews with key informants and documentary search. Many countries in Africa try to reap the benefits from preferential integration by entering into several agreements as these may offer them flexibility and adaptability since the member countries retain their sovereignty and accrue benefits from multiple membership regimes otherwise not available through sole membership. However it is important to note that as the rules of the agreement overlap and the lack of harmonization produced by the inconsistent rules of origin, the multiple memberships are likely to limit the implementation of preferential integration, increase transaction costs in trade and hamper trade flows. Regional integration has gained considerable momentum throughout Southern Africa. Both Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) have experienced considerable growth in intra-regional trade among member states. However there are several challenges in promoting deeper and more effective regional integration and the most prominent of these is the spaghetti bowl. Zimbabwe is a founder member of SADC, EAC and the COMESA-EAC-SADC tripartite arrangement. The main reason for being a member to these regional groupings is that it stands to benefit from cooperation, trade, political support, social, institutional and economic development. The opportunities for Zimbabwe in the SADC and COMESA regions are that through the Free Trade Area (FTA), there is monetary support for development, most goods are traded duty or quota free, investment opportunities and a bigger market for products. However there are challenges associated with being a member of more than one regional grouping as there are different trading regimes, divided loyalty, duplication of programs, conflicting priorities and lack of political commitment. Heads of State saw the challenge of multiple memberships and decided on a tripartite forum to harmonize development programmes in the region. Thus they sought to bring in together SADC, EAC and COMESA. One can allude that overlapping memberships and shared integrative goals cannot work as national negotiating capacities are over stretched, multiple memberships are costly and conflicting membership loyalties hamper progress with implementing and promoting deep integration. Given these conflicting goals there is need to for these issues to be addressed in order to correct the poor regional international record of the past, clear political commitment and for a common market to function members need to be at peace. There is need for the creation of Eastern and Southern Africa FTA integrating the SADC and COMESA markets. Thus eliminating overlapping membership will significantly improve the effectiveness and efficiency of RECs.