Tripartite Free Trade Area – Taking Stock of Progress

Trade experts from seventeen countries under the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Agreement met in Nairobi, Kenya on 23rd and 24th January 2023 for the Tripartite Trade Negotiation Forum (TTNF) were they reviewed progress made on various thematic areas needed to make the TFTA operational and unlock enhanced trade and investment opportunities. This is intended to benefit the 29 COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Member States.

The 21st Meeting of the TTNF discussed matters from the previous conference which included the exchange of tariff offers, signature and ratification of the TFTA Agreement, the Tripartite Resource Mobilisation Strategy, establishment of the Simplified Trade Regime and the study on trade in services.

They also received reports from the Technical Working Groups on the Rules of Origin, Customs Cooperation, Documentation, Procedures and Transit Instruments, Competition Policy and the Technical Barriers to Trade, Sanitary and Phytosanitary matters and the Non-Tariff Barriers among other issues.

High on the agenda was the need for Member/Partner States to re-commit themselves to the full operationalization of all the three pillars of the Tripartite namely; Market Integration, Infrastructure Development and Industrial Development.

Speaking during the opening of the meeting, Principal Secretary in Kenya’s State Department for Trade Mr Alfred K’Ombudo commended the eleven countries that have ratified the TFTA and urged the others to do the same.

Mr K’Ombudo expressed optimism that impressive results are expected from the meeting which shall be adopted by the Council of Ministers to avoid fatigue and TFTA anxiety from member/partner states who had ratified the agreement early.

“The immediate target is to secure the three remaining ratifications by the first quarter of this year,” said Mr K’Ombudo through Mr Peter Njoroge the Director of International Trade.

The meeting was urged to narrow down on the divergences, implement outstanding obligations and commitments and undertake domestic regulatory reforms in order to conform with the requirements of the Agreement.

“This year, let us ensure that we achieve the necessary signature, ratifications, and exchange of tariff offers. Let us consolidate our efforts toward the implementation of trade facilitation instruments and create room for businesses to trade and the private sector to invest,” said Dr Christopher Onyango, Director of Trade and Customs at COMESA Secretariat.

He used the opportunity to commend the African Development Bank (AfDB) for its financial support to the Tripartite programme.

At the same occasion, Chairperson of the Tripartite and representing Egypt the current Chair of COMESA, Mr Mohamed Abdallah called on the partner states that are yet to ratify the TFTA to do so and allow the region to start enjoying the benefits of the Agreement. Mr Mohamed is also the Head of Commercial Services at the Egyptian Embassy in Lusaka.

The meeting noted that so far significant progress has already been made in all three pillars.

Established in 2008, with a combined GDP of approximately US $ 1.6 trillion and a population of about 800 million, the Tripartite bloc is a formidable market, only second to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) market.