Only 16 out of 26 countries have signed the Tripartite Free Trade Area Agreement while none of the countries have ratified it.The tripartite brings together 26 member States of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, East African Community and the Southern Africa Development Community with a population of 625 million and a Gross Domestic Product of $1,3 trillion into a single market.During the sixth extraordinary meeting held in Lusaka, Zambia last week, the ministers noted that since the launch of the TFTA last year, 16 out of the 26 countries had signed the agreement.
“So far, none of the tripartite countries have ratified the agreement. Those that have signed include Angola, Burundi, Comoros, D R Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Seychelles, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Swaziland and Zimbabwe,” said COMESA in a statement.
Giving an update on the status of the TFTA, the COMESA Secretariat said national consultations on signing are on-going in Lesotho and Seychelles while similar consultations on ratification are underway in Sudan, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
At the summit that was launched the TFTA in June last year in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, Heads of State and Government directed the tripartite member and partners states to expedite the conclusion of the outstanding negotiation issues.
“These were in the phase one of the negotiations process covering tariff offers, trade remedies and Rules of Origin. A time frame of 12 months from the date of launching was given to conclude the issues.
“The tripartite was founded on three pillars namely, market integration, industrial development and infrastructure development,” said COMESA.
COMESA said phase one covers the market integration pillar, which includes the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers as well as the implementation of trade facilitation measures, all of which are essential for the establishment of a well functioning Tripartite FTA.
During the Zambian meeting, which was also attended by Industry and Commerce minister Mike Bimha, ministers were informed that considerable amount of work had been done during three subsequent meetings convened by the technical working groups on Rules of Origin and Trade remedies.
As a result, six out of seven annexes that had been finalised were submitted to legal scrubbing.
COMESA said these are Annexes 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 on non-tariff barriers, customs cooperation, trade facilitation, transit trade and transit facilitation, technical barriers to trade and sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures respectively.
“Tariff negotiations take place bilaterally between and among the tripartite/ member States and Customs territories. The outcomes of these bilateral negotiations are then presented to the Tripartite Trade Negotiation Forum,” said COMESA.
In their final decisions, the ministers urged member states to confirm their tariff offers to other TFTA member states and submit their tariff 2012 books to the Secretariat by April 30 2016. COMESA said the books should show all current trade regimes they participate in and duties on products originating from TFTA countries.
On rules of origin, the ministers noted that 47,9 percent of all chapters relating to the negotiation on list rules remained outstanding and these represented 55 percent of total intra-tripartite trade value.
Further, the ministers supported the adoption and approval for legal scrubbing on the Annexes on Rules of Origin and a dynamic approach to the negotiation of the rules based on key identified indicators.