Building capacity to help Africa trade better

South Africa on ratification of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area


South Africa on ratification of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area

South Africa on ratification of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area
Photo credit: Transnet

Presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry on 13 June 2018

The Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) was launched in June 2015 in Egypt. Negotiations of the legal texts (the main Agreement and its annexes) were concluded in May 2017.

South Africa signed the Agreement in July 2017. To date, 22 of the 27 Member States have signed the Agreement. The Agreement will enter into force once it has been ratified by 14 Member States. Thus far only Egypt and Uganda have ratified the Agreement.

The TFTA has been used as a basis for engaging in the ongoing African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) negotiations. Ratification by South Africa will send a strong signal of South Africa’s commitment to regional integration. It will also bring South African exporters a step closer to enjoying preferential treatment under the TFTA.

Basis for the TFTA

  • Based on the development integration agenda that combines market integration with industrial and infrastructure development.

  • Recognizes that the much advocated linear integration model is not suitable for countries of very different levels of economic development.

  • Argues that major barriers to intra-regional trade are often inadequate infrastructure and underdeveloped production structures, rather than tariffs or regulatory barriers.

Purpose of concluding the TFTA

The Agreement will facilitate:

  • harmonisation of trade regimes,

  • free movement of business persons, joint implementation of regional infrastructure projects and programmes;

  • development of regional value chains; and

  • legal and institutional arrangements for regional cooperation among the 26 countries who are members of COMESA, EAC and SADC.

This ratification request only relates to the trade liberalisation element of the agreement.

Key Features of the TFTA

  • Recognition of differentials in levels of economic development, i.e. Flexibility, Special & Differential Treatment.

  • Variable geometry regarding pace of liberalisation across negotiating regions.

  • Building on the existing acquis of the Regional Economic Communities (no backtracking).

  • Objective to create a single TFTA market.

Potential Benefit for South Africa

  • Access to new and dynamic markets:

    • combined gross GDP of US$1.2 trillion, and

    • a combined population of approximately 626 million people, just over half the total African population and economy.

  • Some TFTA countries are among the fastest growing economies in the continent, i.e. Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania etc.

  • South Africa will build on its current share of the African market and have access to a larger, more integrated, and growing regional market.

  • This has the potential to stimulate industrial development, investment and job creation.

  • It will promote intra-regional investment. 

  • When negotiations commence on the investment chapter, South Africa will advance that core provisions of South Africa’s Protection of Investment Act must be taken into account.

  • Legal certainty and predictability of market in TFTA.

  • Legal protections for South African exporters, i.e. Agreement makes provision for dispute settlement mechanism that is delinked from national courts.

  • Possibility for the TFTA having a “single-rule book” for trade, investment, IPR and Competition.

  • The TFTA will boost intra-regional trade.

SA’s trade with the TFTA countries

South Africa’s trade with TFTA countries represents about 16% of SA’s trade with the world.

In 2017 total trade with TFTA countries was in the tune of US$27.6 billion. A bulk of the trade is with SADC countries. After SADC, Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda feature as export destinations of potential.

South Africa exports to Kenya account for 3.3% of TFTA exports. South Africa in turn receives about 2% of its TFTA imports from Egypt.


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