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Africa’s Largest Free Trade Area Set to Launch

At a Tripartite Sectoral Committee meeting in Burundi last week, ministers agreed to launch Africa’s largest free trade area to boost business opportunities and attract foreign direct investment in the region.

The Tripartite Free Trade Area (FTA), which includes 26 member states from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), will account for 58 percent of the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP). The Tripartite region has a combined population of 625 million people and a $1.2 trillion GDP.

According to a statement from COMESA, the region’s business community will benefit from the “improved and harmonized” trade regime that reduces the cost of doing businesses by eliminating 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,” COMESA noted. In order for the FTA to realize growth, the ministers agreed on the need to implement a regional industrial program.

Chiratidzo Iris Mabuwa, deputy minister of commerce and industry for Zimbabwe, and the chairperson of the ministerial meeting, touted the agreement 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 said at 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.”

The Tripartite FTA will be launched at the Tripartite Summit of Heads of State and Government in Egypt in mid-December, and is expected to be the catalyst for establishing a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) in 2017. The CFTA will eliminate tariffs on trade between CFTA member states and reduce the cost of cross border trade. The agreement will increase intra-African trade and improve the continent’s global competitiveness.