Africa
African Continental Free Trade Area
AU
Botswana
Cape Town
Chad
Comesa
Common Market for Eastern Africa
Customs
Digital Free Trade Area
Djibouti
EAC
EastAfrican
Egypt
Electronic Certificate of Origin
Eritrea
eSwatini
Ghana
Kenya
Lesotho
Munyeshaka
Namibia
Niger
Rwanda
South Africa
Southern African Customs Union
Sudan
Swaziland
TFTA Agreement

Why countries are dilly-dallying over freeing their markets

Only three of 27 members of the Common Market for Eastern Africa (Comesa) bloc have endorsed the tripartite free trade area deal, three years after it was launched, shining the spotlight on their commitment to opening up the region’s market.

It is expected to come into force in April next year after at least 14 countries endorse the deal, and will smooth the path to achieving the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) launched early this year.

But in their statement at the end of the summit, the heads of state only acknowledged the progress made in preparing the instruments for the Digital Free Trade Area (DFTA), such as the Electronic Certificate of Origin. They encouraged the member states that are ready to implement the DFTA to do so on a pilot basis.

In mid-June, the region’s ministers met in Cape Town to give direction on the implementation of both the TFTA and the continental market, where members set yet a new deadline of April 2019 for countries to complete the ratification process. On tariff negotiations, the ministers set a new deadline of December 2018.

“As the tripartite has higher levels of deeper integration, and shorter timeframes in light of the upfront elimination of Customs duties on 60 to 85 per cent of total tariff lines, its implementation should be fasttracked as a building bloc for the AfCFTA.

“So far 49 out of the 55 African countries have signed the AfCFTA deal. Kenya, Ghana, Niger, Rwanda, Chad and eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) have ratified the agreement. However, Rwanda and eSwatini are yet to ratify the TFTA Agreement.

Rwanda, which has been seen as the champion of free markets, is yet to ratify the tripartite agreement, despite being among the first AU members to ratify the AfCFTA.

“The Prime Minister, as leader of government business, is better placed to provide more information. However, we expedited the AfCFTA agreement and ratification because we believe in continental trade to achieve our target of increasing intra-Africa trade to spearhead integration. It is a big opportunity because Africa is the future,” said Mr Munyeshaka.

The EastAfrican understands that some countries have taken time to sign the agreement because of some missing legal information, while the reasons given for the lack of ratification is that countries are still aligning some of the annexes with their domestic laws.

The first phase of the negotiations, which involved tariff negotiations among member states and regions that do not have preferential arrangements among themselves has taken long, delaying the second phase.

For instance, the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), comprising Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, is still negotiating tariff liberalisation with the EAC and Egypt, and it has yet to start negotiations with individual countries like Djibouti, Sudan and Eritrea.

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