Implementation of the AfCFTA and Tripartite FTA to Bolster Regional Economic Communities

The implementation of both the regional and the continental free trade area regimes will position the regional economic communities, COMESA, East African Community and Southern Africa Development Community into a formidable economic bloc to collectively exploit the envisaged benefits of Africa’s integration.

Addressing the 38th Meeting of the COMESA Trade and Customs experts meeting on 7 – 9 November 2022, Assistant Secretary General of COMESA, Dr Kipyego Cheluget said although the ratification of the Tripartite FTA has not progressed as rapidly as originally envisaged, it remains a commendable effort at RECs consolidation upon which the AfCFTA could build upon.

“The existing RECs are the natural building blocks of the wider AfCFTA trading arrangement, and we need to double our efforts to complete the ratification process to make the COMESA, EAC and SADC Tripartite FTA operational,” he said.

In this regard, he proposed that the remaining processes under the TFTA should draw lessons from the AfCFTA, especially with regard to the strategies that were used to facilitate its rapid ratification and coming into force.

The TFTA was launched in 2015 and despite achieving numerous milestones, its implementation has been held back by lack of the sufficient number of ratifications by Member /Partner States. Currently, 11 States have ratified the agreement, three short of the required 14 threshold to enable it to enter into force.

On the other hand, the AfCTFA achieved the required ratification threshold in less than two years after it was launched.

The experts’ meeting focused on the review of the implementation of regional programs and agreed on policy recommendations to enhance regional integration to be presented to the COMESA policy organs meetings, including the Council of Ministers meeting scheduled on 1st December 2022.

Among the key issues tabled to the meeting was the report on the COMESA trade in services which covered negotiations, strategies to fast track the negotiations and issues relating to tracking and monitoring the implementation of already agreed commitments.

“This Committee may wish to make additional recommendations that will ensure that trade in services negotiations are expedited as the implementation of liberalization commitments in services will enhance COMESA’s regional integration agenda,” Dr Cheluget said.

The report of the Heads of Customs was presented with the pertinent issues being the slow progress registered in the implementation of instruments expected to support implementation of the COMESA Customs Union. An update was also provided on how post -Covid-19 Customs Administrations have deployed ICT tools and automation to expedite clearance of goods traded within the region.

The initiatives include automation and use of non-intrusive inspection systems in lieu of physical inspections, the use of e-declaration processing and submission of electronic supporting documents, pre-arrival processing, increased use of electronic cargo tracking systems to manage transit movements among others all of which form the basis for the current COMESA theme of “Building Resilience Through Strategic Digital Economic Integration.

Delegates from Burundi, Comoros, DR Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eswatini, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe attended the meeting.