When will FTAs justify optimistic Expectations about African Integration?
The public debate about what the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) and the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) will bring about portrays an optimistic picture. Many commentators claim that these agreements will bring significant benefits to millions of consumers and a marked reduction in poverty in many countries. However, after the signing ceremony and “launch” of the TFTA in June 2015, important negotiations about tariff schedules, rules of origin and trade remedies were still to be completed. These negotiations are said to have advanced well but it is still not known exactly what the three Annexes in question provide for. And it will take considerable time before the required number of ratifications will be deposited and this agreement will enter into force. Only then will implementation under the agreement commence.
The optimism about the TFTA and CFTA is presumably a sign that, in Africa, there is support for a new generation of intra-African trade agreements and a belief that the TFTA and CFTA fall in this category. Trade agreements with the West (e.g. the Economic Partnership Agreements) are viewed very differently. If the optimism about the TFTA and CFTA reflects a new commitment by governments to address the many obstacles (including corruption, red tape, absence of the rule of law etc) which prevent African trade from being “boosted”, this development is obviously to be welcomed. It is in fact very necessary. Intra-African trade can make a substantial contribution to the continent’s development and should be pursued in tandem with global integration.
However, one cannot escape the impression that the popular perceptions about the TFTA lack a proper examination of the technical aspects of the content of the Agreement. This trade brief takes a look at the text of the TFTA and what the parties have formally undertaken to do. We believe this to be necessary in order to form a realistic picture about the task ahead. The efforts required to ensure that the expected benefits will indeed materialize must not be underestimated.
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