New free trade block coming

The Tripartite Sectorial Committee of COMESA-EACH-SADC Ministers says it will launch the Tripartite Free Trade Area (FTA) known as the Grand Free Trade Area and will be the largest economic bloc on the continent in mid-December 2014.

This was agreed when the ministers met in Bujumbura, Burundi from 24 – 25 October 2014 and that the decision to launch the Tripartite FTA took into account the fact that the majority of the Tripartite Member/Partner States had made ambitious tariff offers and were agreed on Rules of Origin to be applied in the interim whilst further work continued on product specific Rules of Origin.

The Tripartite TFA encompassing 26 Member/Partner States from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), with a combined population of 625 million people and a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of USD 1.2 trillion, will account for half of the membership of the African Union and 58% of the continent’s GDP.

The Chairperson of the Ministerial meeting, Honourable Chiratidzo Iris Mabuwa, Deputy Minister of Commerce and Industry of Zimbabwe said this initiative would also be the launching pad for the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Are (CFTA) in 2017.

The Tripartite FTA offers significant opportunities for business and investment within the Tripartite and would act as a magnet for attracting foreign direct investment into the Tripartite region.

“The business community, in particular, will benefit from an improved and harmonized trade regime which reduces the cost of doing business as a result of elimination of overlapping trade regimes due to multiple memberships.

“The launching of the Tripartite Free Trade Area is the first phase of implementing a developmental regional integration strategy that places high priority on infrastructure development, industrialization and free movement of business persons. In order for the Tripartite FTA to realize inclusive and equitable growth, the meeting agreed on the need for expeditious formulation and implementation of a regional industrial programme,” hon Mabuwa said.  Honourable Mabuwa hailed the agreement to launch the Grand FTA as a milestone in regional and continental integration.

“Africa has now joined the league of emerging economies and the grand FTA will play a pivotal and catalytic role in the transformation of the continent”, she declared at the close of the meeting. “We have made significant progress in negotiations on trade in goods, and we now need to expedite negotiations on trade-related areas, including trade in services, intellectual property and competition policy to ensure equity, among all citizens of the wider region.”