Sindiso Ngwenya

Africa’s Tripartite Free Trade Area, which would see 27 countries united under a series of agreements, is set to come under discussion in Nairobi this week.

The Tripartite Free Trade Area would see Comesa, the EAC and the SADC joining forces to boost regional trade and develop cross-border infrastructure.

The chairman of the Tripartite Taskforce and Executive Secretary of Comesa, Sindiso Ngwenya, has described the vision as the start of a “united states of Africa”. He says negotiations on the free market will begin in Nairobi on 8 and 9 December. Earlier talks hoped to see negotiations and an infrastructure plan in place within 36 months.

The FTA would encompass nearly 600 million people in countries with a joint GDP of USD1 trillion.

At a tripartite summit in June, Comesa-EAC-SADC delegates set a roadmap envisaging the preparatory phase of planning would last between six to 12 months, after which negotiations would commerce.

These would cover issues such tariff liberalisation, rules of origin, customs procedures and simplification of customs documentation, transit procedures, non-tariff barriers, trade remedies and other technical barriers to trade and dispute resolution.

Phase two of negotiations is expected to cover trade in services and trade related issues including intellectual property rights, competition policy, and trade development and competitiveness.

Ngwenya said recently that South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) should be made a "common tripartite institution" to accelerate large-scale industrial projects in the 27 countries set to become part of the FTA. IDC is a development finance agency.

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