CSOs expected to shape TFTA negotiations
CUTS-Nairobi held project inception meetings under ‘Integrating the Voice of CSOs in Regional Integration Process in Eastern and Southern Africa’ (IVORI-ESA) project in Nairobi on July 28, 2015 at Sarova Panafric Hotel; in Lusaka on July 31, 2015 at Grand Palace Hotel; and in Addis Ababa on August 04, 2015 at Jupiter Hotel.
In Nairobi, participants drawn from women cross border traders associations, micro and small enterprises authority, relevant policy makers on trade and regional integration, small-scale farmers associations, CSOs, the private sector and academia were briefed on the status of the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Participants were also briefed on the IVORI-ESA project design, methodologies and expected outcomes. The half-day meeting had fruitful discussions on the role and challenges of non-state actors, particularly civil society organisations, in regional integration within respective regional economic communities (RECs). Similar presentations and discussions were held in Zambia in partnership with CUTS-Lusaka; and in Addis Ababa in partnership with the Ethiopian Economics Association (EEA).
The Eastern and Southern Africa comprises more than 57% of the total population of the African Union (AU) with a combined GDP of US$ 624 billion; a GDP per capita averaging US$1,184; and make up half of the African Union (AU) in terms of membership. It also contributes over 58% to GDP of AU. The Tripartite process is anchored on three pillars, namely; Market Integration (Tariffs, Rules of Origin, Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary, Technical Barriers to Trade, Non-Tariff Barriers etc); Infrastructure Development (Transit corridors, Energy, Railway and Air Transport); and Industrial development (Competitiveness). While nnegotiations on the three pillars are running concurrently, Infrastructure Development has been an on-going process even before the Summit’s decision to move towards the Tripartite FTA. The Tripartite Summit directed that Free Movement of Business persons will be negotiated in parallel with trade in goods but in a separate track.
The principles guiding the TFTA process include: the negotiations to be REC and/or Member driven; Variable Geometry; Flexibility and Special and Differential Treatment; Transparency including disclosure of information with respect to application of the tariff arrangement in each REC; Building on the acquis of the existing REC FTA in terms of consolidating tariff liberalisation in each REC FTA; Single undertaking covering phase I on trade in goods; Substantial liberalisation; MFN; National Treatment; Reciprocity; and Decision be by consensus.
Currently, negotiations have been completed in all areas except in Tariff (offers) Liberalisation; annexes on Rules of Origin and Trade Remedies; Movement of Business Persons; and Modalities for Cooperation in Industrial Development.
Presentation on IVORI-ESA project by CUTS-Nairobi emphasised on the need to give voice to the voiceless. The TFTA initiative brings together 26 disparate countries in terms of, inter alia, economic growth, GDP per capita, poverty gap, high technology exports, food imports and exports, and depth of food deficit, the implication of which is that the TFTA presents both opportunities and challenges with respect to the composition of Member States. To ensure that the process results in improved living standards of people from all walks of life, it needs to involve CSOs that already have the machination, network and experience to reach out to the society and reflect views of the voiceless. Their proximity to the ground as well as society’s-watchdog perception best place CSOs as potential and integral part of any regional integration process.
Besides producing country and regional studies and designing of an ‘Engagement Framework and Action Agenda’, the project is expected to bring together CSOs from the 26 countries under an e-network dubbed Eastern and Southern Africa Civil Society Organisations Network on Integration and Development (ESACSONID) to serve as a platform for dialogue and information sharing on integration processes.
Discussions in relation to the role and challenges of non-state actors, particularly civil society organisations, in regional integration processes were more or less similar in the three countries. Stakeholders admitted that CSOs’ role in regional integration and more so in the TFTA process has been limited. It was indicated CSOs have to take a more proactive role in shaping negotiations outcomes. In all the three countries, it was mentioned that the involvement of CSOs during the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations was encouraging; however, along the way, they lost stamina perhaps due to protracted negotiations and limited resources. Policy makers, negotiators and REC representatives in the various meetings encouraged CSOs to be proactive in contacting their national governments to forward concerns and contributions based on solid evidence. So far, there is no mechanism put in place by the TFTA Secretariat to engage CSOs but it was indicated that national governments are expected to involve non-state actors, including CSOs, during consolidation of negotiation positions.
The half day meetings resulted in better informed participants in all the countries in terms of updates on the status and outstanding issues of the TFTA; as well as the IVORI-ESA project. Many expressed high expectation out of ESACSONID for better flow of information and dialogue.
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