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Mugabe launches new African trade pact

Robert Mugabe has launched a new pact aimed at tearing down trade barriers across 19 African nations with appeals for external investors and an end to domestic conflicts.

world Updated: Jun 08, 2009 10:46 IST

Robert Mugabe has launched a new pact aimed at tearing down trade barriers across 19 African nations with appeals for external investors and an end to domestic conflicts.

The veteran leader took over as chairman of the continent's largest trade bloc -- home to 400 million people stretching from the southern Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean -- and opened the customs union within their borders.

"Our message to investors worldwide and to those of our region is clear: we have a regional market for you, come to COMESA," said the 85-year-old Zimbabwe president, referring to the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, on Sunday.

"To the whole world, we want to say... that we are serious as a region." With a combined gross domestic product of 360 billion dollars, COMESA's members range from oil or tourist hotspots to some of the world's poorest and most conflict-torn nations.

The bloc comprises: Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Most have lifted visa restrictions on travel within the bloc. Speaking as once-prosperous Zimbabwe seeks to emerge from economic meltdown and political turmoil, Mugabe earlier urged leaders to stamp out violence and "make Africa a continent of opportunity for all its people."