By Shingai Nyoka

HARARE, March 6 — A crucial Southern African Development Community (SADC) ministerial task force on regional economic integration meeting has opened in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, with the task of developing an SADC industrialisation strategy and roadmap which can lead to the formation of a regional community along the lines of the European Union (EU).

After more than 35 years of trying to improve regional integration and trade, SADC leaders realised last year that trade among the 15 member States was not growing.

The problem is that the region has such low levels of industrialisation that it does not produce enough goods for the region and even if it did, poor infrastructure would hamper the moving goods from one country to another.

The expanded committee of ministers meeting in Harare this week is tasked with producing a roadmap to ramp up both infrastructural development and integrate trade. Without that, even economic powerhouses like South Africa will continue to de-industrialise, as Trade Minister Rob Davies explains.

“Colonialism divided the continent into 54 countries and even the biggest of us don’t have the domestic market to contribute to industrial development …. all of us are experiencing pressures of de-industrialisation, including South Africa, and we haven’t reached a stage where industrial development is driving the growth paths,” he said.

There will be delicate discussions in the days ahead as small countries negotiate space to avoid being stifled among bigger economies. The region will also need to come up with a funding strategy with infrastructural development alone requiring 65 billion US dollars.

The task force is expected to produce a five-year road map to be debated and adopted by SADC heads of government at a special summit in April.