Advancing the intra-African Trade Agenda by implementing the Tripartite FTA

Advancing the intra-African Trade Agenda by implementing the Tripartite FTA

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06 Jun 2019

Author(s): Gerhard Erasmus

The launch of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) in June 2015 carried the signs of a new approach towards intra-African trade and integration. It was subsequently followed in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) negotiations. Although the initial promise of the TFTA to integrate the three participating Regional Economic Communities (RECs) into one arrangement proved to be too ambitious, a new negotiating model was adopted. Trade in services and other trade-related disciplines were included in the suite of proposed TFTA legal instruments. There is also a plan for aligning the agendas of the three participating RECs.

The inclusion of services in the TFTA agenda, right at the outset, was a significant development. The African integration debate had previously been limited to a dated agenda – promoting trade in goods. Liberalizing trade in services is central to attracting investment and to facilitate trade in goods; through, for example, transport services, logistics, financial and business services, communications, etc. The TFTA process has not yet launched negotiations about services. It may still do, or the Members may decide to concentrate on liberalizing trade in services in the AfCFTA. All the States participating in the TFTA discussions are African Union (AU) Members and participate in the AfCFTA negotiations. And regional integration is a dynamic and continuing process.

Does the trade in goods regime of the TFTA offer an additional and perhaps better opportunity for some African nations to boost their trade with each other, and to do so sooner rather than later? Could this happen while the same States are participating in the tariff reduction discussions of the AfCFTA? Could those States that have ratified the TFTA Agreement fast-track the implementation of their undertakings to liberalize trade in goods? This Trade Brief provides a discussion of these and other pertinent issues related to the TFTA and AfCFTA agreements.


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