Trade Briefs

The TFTA as a legal construct: What is it and how will it be implemented?

The TFTA as a legal construct: What is it and how will it be implemented?

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05 Apr 2017

Author(s): Gerhard Erasmus

The Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) is not, like the regional economic communities (RECs), a legal person. It is a sui generis framework agreement for promoting trade in goods among (potentially) the 26 members of COMESA, the EAC and SADC.

What is the significance of the TFTA being a framework agreement? This concept has become a methodology for, inter alia, Trade and Investment Framework Agreements (TIFAs) – inter-state instruments, couched in general terms, about trade, investment and related matters. They establish frameworks to expand trade, continue negotiations on outstanding issues, and promote integration. TIFAs are often seen as first steps towards establishing modern FTAs.

The language of the TFTA text indicates a low-level framework agreement in which the parties undertake to “progressively eliminate tariffs and Non-Tariff Barriers; liberalise trade in services; cooperate on customs matters and implementation of trade facilitation measures; establish and promote cooperation in all trade-related areas…; and establish and maintain an institutional framework for implementation and administration of the Tripartite Free Trade Area”.

It is possible that some participating states (doubting the benefits or considering the CFTA to be the better option) will not become TFTA parties. The fact that many of the Tripartite Member/Partner States had signed the incomplete (and un-scrubbed) text in June 2015 means that they may find it necessary to revisit their decision once all negotiations have been finalized. Article 44 stipulates that the built-in agenda of the TFTA must be finalized before the Agreement is complete. The three outstanding Annexes must be concluded “after the launch of the Tripartite Free Trade Area”. This has not yet happened.

The TFTA was “launched” before its negotiations had been finalized. Once the negotiations are completed the Agreement still has to enter into force, before trade in goods will be conducted (for those states which have become parties) in terms of its provisions. The TFTA does not yet exist as a proper FTA; this project is work in progress.


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