The inter-ministerial meetings will run until June 4 in the resort town of Victoria Falls followed by the Heads of State and government summit set for June 6 and June 8.

COMESA secretary general Dr Sindiso Ngwenya said the major highlight of this year’s summit would be the signing of the Customs Union by the Heads of State.

He said 19 heads of state and government would be joined by countries such as China, the United States, Britain and the European Union who are COMESA’s largest trading partners.

"This is the largest number we have had so far," Dr Ngwenya said. "It will be a full house."

The summit that takes place during the worst global recession whose effects are now being felt in the region would attract 1,500 delegates from 19 member states.

Delegates would also discuss a regional payment and settlement system as the region prepares itself to compete effectively with other developed nations in terms of settling payments at regional level.

The new system would be open to all African countries.

"It is not good to import services from abroad to trade with fellow African countries," Dr Ngwenya told a press conference ahead of the first meeting.

"The mechanism of payment for our own trade should be done at regional level."

The summit was initially scheduled for May last year but was postponed after Zimbabwe was engulfed by political violence ahead of a June 27 presidential run-off election that was set to pit President Robert Mugabe against his then rival Morgan Tsvangirai, now the Prime Minister in a coalition government.

Tsvangirai was forced to pull out of the polls after more than 100 of his supporters were killed and thousands left homeless in the violence led by Mugabe’s loyalists.

Following the election chaos, Zimbabwe ran without a substantive government until February 13 when Mugabe and his former rivals joined forces in an effort to rescue the once prosperous country from economic ruin.

Zimbabwe will take over the chairmanship of the regional block after the summit. (Daily Nation)