The Tripartite Free Trade Area project: Integration in southern and eastern Africa

04-03-2015

The African continent could soon witness an important milestone on its path towards economic integration with the completion of the Tripartite Free Trade Area covering 26 countries and representing more than half the continent's gross domestic product (GDP). The establishment of this area would be the logical consequence of integration efforts in three regional economic communities in the eastern and southern parts of the continent, which have already concluded preferential trade agreements with considerable economic benefits in their own regions and are moving forward with integration. The proposed Tripartite Free Trade Area is based on three main pillars – market integration, infrastructure development and industrial development – reflecting the fact that there are multiple obstacles to trade in the region and it requires efforts to increase and diversify industrial production and improve transport infrastructure. The trade negotiations include two phases: in the first phase, they will deal with the liberalisation of trade in goods, by removing tariff and non-tariff barriers, and with ensuring the free movement of business people; in a second phase, they will tackle the gradual liberalisation of trade in services. Although the expected direct gains are moderate and will mainly benefit the more economically powerful countries, the real advantages should be broader, including an improved business environment, more foreign direct investment, enhanced economic development in general, and, most importantly, bringing impetus to the realisation of the continental free trade area, a project currently led by the African Union. The completion of the Tripartite Free Trade Area would also simplify the complicated geography of regional integration schemes, and would fit into the integration efforts promoted in the framework of the Economic Partnership Agreements already negotiated by the EU with two of the regional groupings involved.

The African continent could soon witness an important milestone on its path towards economic integration with the completion of the Tripartite Free Trade Area covering 26 countries and representing more than half the continent's gross domestic product (GDP). The establishment of this area would be the logical consequence of integration efforts in three regional economic communities in the eastern and southern parts of the continent, which have already concluded preferential trade agreements with considerable economic benefits in their own regions and are moving forward with integration. The proposed Tripartite Free Trade Area is based on three main pillars – market integration, infrastructure development and industrial development – reflecting the fact that there are multiple obstacles to trade in the region and it requires efforts to increase and diversify industrial production and improve transport infrastructure. The trade negotiations include two phases: in the first phase, they will deal with the liberalisation of trade in goods, by removing tariff and non-tariff barriers, and with ensuring the free movement of business people; in a second phase, they will tackle the gradual liberalisation of trade in services. Although the expected direct gains are moderate and will mainly benefit the more economically powerful countries, the real advantages should be broader, including an improved business environment, more foreign direct investment, enhanced economic development in general, and, most importantly, bringing impetus to the realisation of the continental free trade area, a project currently led by the African Union. The completion of the Tripartite Free Trade Area would also simplify the complicated geography of regional integration schemes, and would fit into the integration efforts promoted in the framework of the Economic Partnership Agreements already negotiated by the EU with two of the regional groupings involved.