Regional integration is a process in which states get into an agreement in order to formalize cooperation through common institutions and rules. The objectives of the agreement do range from economic, political to environmental.
A leading Scholar in this area, Dr De Lombaerde and Van Langenhove describes it as a ‘’worldwide phenomenon of territorial systems that increases the interactions between their components and creates new forms of organization co-existing with traditional forms of state-led organization at the national level. Other scholars see regional integration simply as the process by which states within a particular region increase their level of interaction with regard to economic, security, political, or social and cultural issues.
In short, regional integration is the joining of individual states within a region into a larger whole. The degree of integration depends upon the willingness and commitment of independent sovereign states to share their sovereignty. Deep integration that focuses on regulating the business environment in a more general sense is faced with many difficulties. Regional integration initiatives, according to Van Langenhove, should fulfill at least eight important functions:
- the strengthening of trade integration in the region
- the creation of an appropriate enabling environment for private sector development
- the development of infrastructure programmes in support of economic growth and regional integration
- the development of strong public sector institutions and good governance
- the reduction of social exclusion and the development of an inclusive civil society contribution to peace and security in the region
- the building of environment programmes at the regional level
- the strengthening of the region’s interaction with other regions of the world
- Regional integration approaches run through either supranational institutional structures or through intergovernmental decision-making, or a combination of both.
For most integration arrangements, efforts are often focused on removing barriers to free trade in the region, increasing the free movement of people, labor, goods, and capital across national borders, reducing the possibility of regional armed conflict (for example, through Confidence and Security-Building Measures), and adopting cohesive regional stances on policy issues, such as the environment, climate change and migration.
Intra-regional trade refers to trade which focuses on economic exchange primarily between countries of the same region or economic zone. In recent years countries within such economic-trade regimes have increased the level of trade and commodity exchange between themselves which reduces the inflation and tariff barriers associated with foreign markets resulting in growing prosperity. Integration also helps countries to transcend their national constraints and ‘smallness’ of their economies and leverage ‘shared’ development.
The main such regional blocs in Africa are: the EAC, ECOWAS, CEMAC, COMESA and SADC many of which have overlapping membership.