Following the Eighteen African Union Summit of Heads of State and Governmentsâ€™ meeting held on 23-30 January 2012 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, focusing on the theme of â€œBoosting Intra-Africa Tradeâ€, the role of Regional Economic Communities (RECs) has become more pronounced in implementing the Abuja Treaty establishing the African Economic Community and the Constitutive Act of the African Union.
The RECs, as the building blocs of the African Union, have continued to individually pursue integration agenda both as a development and transformative strategy whose basis is free trade, customs unions and common markets within their respective jurisdictions.
In pursuit of this agenda landmark commitments have been made; key among them the decision by Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) to establish a single Free Trade Area (FTA). The Tripartite FTA launched on 10 June 2015 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt covers 26 countries representing more than half of AU membership.
The launch of the Tripartite FTA has galvanized interest towards a much broader continental FTA. The AU Ministers of Trade in their Sixth Ordinary Session held on 29 October, 2010 in Kigali, Rwanda, in response to the progress made in the implementation of FTAs and Customs Union in various RECs, recommended the fast-tracking of the establishment of an African FTA. Consequently, negotiations are in the preliminary stages and the launch of the CFTA has an indicative date of 2017.
At the continental level, consolidation of all these individual efforts is expected to result to an African Common Market (ACM) and an African Economic Community (AEC) in which economic, fiscal and sectoral policies are continentally uniform. This should culminate into breaking down of tariff and non-tariff barriers thereby enhancing intra-African trade.
The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), as one of the largest of the AU recognized RECs in Africa is playing a critical role in consolidating the regional markets. COMESA was established in 1994 to replace the Preferential Trade Area for Eastern and Southern Africa (PTA) set up in 1981 within the framework of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Lagos Plan of Action and the First Act of Lagos. The COMESA regional bloc currently comprises of 19 Member States (Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe).
COMESA successfully established a Free Trade Area (FTA) in October 2000 with the key aim of facilitating regional integration through zero customs tariffs on goods traded among the member states. COMESA envisages to progress to a Common Market and eventually to a full Economic Community by 2025. COMESAâ€™s regional integration agenda covers a range of issues from trade and monetary affairs, investment, agriculture, infrastructure, gender, climate change, standards, and security among other trade related issues.
Despite progress in the conclusion of various negotiations agenda, there remains slow implementation of agreed obligations by member states. This is partly due to prevailing capacity gaps in both the member states and the secretariat in rolling out the implementation. It is against this background that COMESA-ACBF capacity building programme in Economic and Trade Policy Research and Analysis was initiated to enhance the capacity of member states and the secretariat to undertake policy oriented research to foster evidence based policy decision making.
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