Call To Speed Up African Tripartite FTA Negotiations

by Lorys Charalambous,, Cyprus

The Government of Zambia has called on the three African regional economic communities (RECs) – the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) – to speed up their free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations.

While officially opening the fifth meeting of the FTA’s Tripartite Committee of Senior Officials held recently in Livingstone, the Zambian Commerce, Trade and Industry Deputy Minister, Richwell Siamunene, said the negotiations between the RECs are long overdue and needed to come to an end if the region is to realize the benefits of integration.

“We all recall that when the Heads of States and Government decided on the FTA in October 2008, they directed that it should be established expeditiously,” he said, adding that, at their second Tripartite Summit held in June 2011, they had noted the slow progress made between 2008 and 2010. They had set a clear timeframe of 36 months for the first phase of negotiations on allowing the free movement of goods, while a second phase would then tackle trade in services and other issues.

“I have keenly followed the deliberations of the Tripartite Trade Negotiation Forum (TTNF) through the reports of the six meetings it has held so far,” Siamunene continued, “and I am disappointed to note the limited progress attained. The first five meetings were devoted to agreeing on procedural and administrative matters relating to rules of procedure, negotiating formats, exchange of trade and tariff information, and interpretation of the negotiating principles adopted by the Tripartite Summit.”

However, he concluded that the overall negotiations must be completed on time and, “if this means the TTNF will meet continuously for the next one month, so be it. The bottom line is that Ministers want progress … and procedural matters and interpretation of guidelines are not (progress).”

He expressed the hope that, after its Sixth Meeting, the TTNF will negotiate on the basis of the draft texts of the Tripartite Agreement acknowledged by the Tripartite Summit in June 2011, and that they will complete their work by April 2014 as outlined in their schedule of negotiating sessions.

Speaking at the same function, COMESA Assistant Secretary-General (Programmes), Ambassador Kipyego Cheluget, said that, with the tripartite FTA, the region would have the potential to compete on world markets. As a larger regional market of 26 countries, “with a total population of almost 600m people, and a total gross domestic product of over USD1 trillion, we are going to offer a larger market to the world,” he noted.

He commented that “the African Union Commission is also supporting the formation of a continental FTA to cover the entire continent. This meeting is an inspiration to the African continent and these negotiations will enable the three RECs to remove tariffs that hinder trade, promote investment and build infrastructure.”