Integration vision closer to reality
The impending launch of the Grand Tripartite Free Trade Area integrating markets in three regional economic communities namely the Common Market for East and Southern Africa, the East African Community and the Southern African Development Community in December 2014 is part of the fulfilment of Africa’s vision of an integrated continent.
Set to become Africa’s largest integrated market, the TFTA will cover 26 countries in eastern and southern Africa and is expected to boost intra-African trade and regional integration.
In fact, this integrated arrangement will create a combined population of some 625 million people covering half of the member states of the African Union (AU) and a Gross Domestic Product of about US$1.2 trillion.
According to a statement released by Comesa, which is spearheading the implementation process as chair of the Tripartite Taskforce, the proposed Grand FTA will be launched in December during a Tripartite Summit to be held in Egypt.
The Tripartite Sectoral Committee of Comesa-EAC-Sadc ministers met in Bujumbura, Burundi on October 24-25 and agreed to launch the Grand FTA in December, saying the region is now ready for an integrated market.
The launch comes at an opportune time as studies have shown that intra-Africa trade is key to boosting African economies. It has been argued by experts that more emphasis should be placed on trade partnerships between African countries to drive seamless intra-African trade.
Africa is still the world’s least connected continent when considering the ease of moving people, trade, information and finance, according to the DHL Global Connectedness Index released last month in Cape Town, South Africa.
The survey noted that while arrangements such as the United States-initiated African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the recently announced Economic Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Southern Africa were positive, African countries needed to start trading among themselves and should also push for trade agreements among themselves and not only with international partners .
And following consultations and negotiations that have been underway since 2008 when Comesa, EAC and Sadc committed to work together in regional integration at a summit in Uganda, the efforts are about to bear fruit.
“The decision to launch the Tripartite FTA took into account the fact that the majority of the Tripartite Member/Partner States have made ambitious tariff offers and were agreed on Rules of Origin to be applied in the interim whilst further work continues on product specific Rules of Origin,” Comesa Executive Secretary Sindiso Ngwenya, who is also the chairperson of the Comesa-EAC-Sadc Tripartite Taskforce said in a statement.
Aid is no longer the panacea to Africa’s economic prospects but trade, particularly intra-Africa trade is the way to go.
“The ability to strengthen, build and preserve capital in Africa is in line with Africa’s search for innovative financing mechanisms. In the recent years, African governments have taken an active role in changing the investment landscape. Aid is no longer the panacea. This shift is associated with evidence-based policies. Economic activity thrives at the confluence of multiple sources of capital.
As Africa builds its reputation in the global capital market, each success story establishes it as a destination for global capital flows. Driving them to transformational projects is what is expected from governments that are strategic and focussed,” argues Carlos Lopes, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
But as Comesa, EAC and Sadc prepare to launch the Grand TFTA, a reality check is advised when setting targets and milestones.