The Tripartite Free Trade Agreement: Results of Phase One of the Negotiations
African economic integration is a longstanding ideal; regularly confirmed in declarations adopted at meetings of African Governments. The Abuja Treaty, for example, records many decisions to advance inter-State collaboration and eventually to establish “an African Economic Community”. This ambitious goal has to be the outcome of a gradual process; which has lately been interpreted to require the African Regional Economics Communities (RECs) to take specific steps towards closer cooperation and consolidation. These efforts, if resulting in agreements imbued with sufficient scope and legal content, would constitute the building blocks for continental integration.
The launch in 2008 of the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) initiative brought many to believe that a breakthrough had been achieved and that there was proof that the “building block” approach is feasible. The TFTA would have provided new impetus for advancing continental integration, while the participating States would have gained better market access, and associated benefits. In October 2008 the Heads of State and Government of the Members of the East African Community (EAC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) agreed in Kampala, Uganda to establish a Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA). The first Tripartite Summit concluded that “the tripartite arrangement is a crucial building bloc towards achieving the African Economic Community as outlined by the Treaty of Abuja.”
This paper investigates the results and the outcomes of the TFTA negotiations so far. The negotiation process and the text of the Agreement, adopted on 10 June 2015, is assessed. An important question to be answered is whether this particular approach (merging existing RECs into inclusive FTAs) is workable and the appropriate route towards continental integration.
Is the TFTA indeed a building block for continental integration? Will inter-REC negotiations not generate their own new difficulties? What do the TFTA negotiations and the Agreement adopted in June 2015 tell us? How can new challenges and technical difficulties be dealt with? What role do regional hegemons (such as South Africa) play? What are the lessons and the implications for the Continental FTA (CFTA), for which the negotiations were officially launched on 15 June 2015?
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