One Year after its Launch: Has the Tripartite Free Trade Area been overtaken by Events?
The Tripartite FTA (TFTA) is often referred to in publications and in statements as if already a reality, or at least imminent. The true position is that this agreement is not in force; and not even concluded in terms of all critical elements to be agreed upon. The negotiations, in key areas such as tariff liberalisation and rules of origin, have not been finalized and the process might be losing momentum. In short, there is, as yet, no TFTA. It is still subject to negotiations in key substantive areas. At this stage 17 of the 26 negotiating member states have signed the incomplete agreement; ratification will have to wait till everything has been concluded.
Present indications are that the parties (or at least some of the main players) are bogged down in difficult technical and political issues involving the extent of their tariff offers and the content of the concomitant rules of origin. These are essential elements in the design of a trade in goods agreement, if they are not finalized then there cannot be new FTA. In the meantime very important new trade-related developments are taking place elsewhere on the continent and there is a possibility that the FTA could be overtaken by events.
The TFTA teaches us several lessons. The CFTA will have to produce meaningful outcomes if it hopes to meet the real challenge at hand; to boost intra-African trade in an effective manner. When doing so it may actually clarify the choices of individual states regarding the TFTA and whether to pin their hopes on its results. An honest pursuit of the CFTA goals may lead to a realization that unless the synergies between itself and the TFTA are in fact mutually supportive and the arrangements are designed to produce compatible results, the TFTA in its present form may turn out to be a stumbling block, rather than a building block for the CFTA.
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