Fifteen out of the 19 COMESA Member States as now fully in the regional Free Trade Area with only four countries remaining. The Council of Ministers' meeting in Lusaka last week however noted the steady progress that the remaining countries are making towards full participation.
Except for Swaziland which is exempted owing to its membership to the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU), the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea are all at various stages of eventually becoming full members of the FTA.
The DR Congo is expected to achieve full participation by 2018 after reducing tariffs for COMESA originating products by 40%, 30% and 30% each year since it issued a gazette notice in December 2015.
Eritrea is already offering 80% tariff preference to COMESA originating products. A study on the implications for joining COMESA FTA on the Eritrean economy was carried out and validated on 16 June 2017. This study will assist Eritrea in arriving at a decision regarding participation in the COMESA FTA.
As a first step toward joining the FTA, Ethiopia reduced tariffs for COMESA originating products by 10% in 1989. In 2014, a study on the competitiveness of Ethiopian firms in participating the COMESA FTA was undertaken. The study recommended a phase down of products on which tariffs could be reduced to zero by 2019. The country is consulting on effecting further reductions.
During its meeting, the Council urged non-FTA Member States to expedite their accession processes to the COMESA FTA to enhance intra-regional trade and create opportunities for citizens of the region.
The COMESA FTA was launched in October 2000 to provide duty free and quota free market access to Member States on COMESA originating products. The regional bloc has criteria for the Rules of Origin to ensure that goods that have undergone processing or are wholly produced within the region get preferential tariff treatment when crossing the border.
COMESA countries that are fully participating in the Free Trade Area are Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Uganda Zambia and Zimbabwe.