Zambia has become the 17th country to sign the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area Agreement. Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Honourable Margaret Mwanakatwe signed the TFTA Agreement on Friday 17 June 2016 in Lusaka.
“Zambia wishes to join the other countries that signed the agreement with a clear understanding that the establishment of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area will boost trade among the participating countries as a result of market expansion. Our country stands to benefit from this once the TFTA is fully operational,” Mrs Mwanakatwe said.
Out of the total projected aggregate net benefit for the TFTA of over US$ 3.3 billion per annum, Zambia will get US$149.9 million annually, without counting the expected new investment opportunities into the priority areas set in the diversification, value addition and innovation programs. This is according to trade experts at COMESA Secretariat.
Minister Mwanakatwe was hopeful that the next steps of concluding the negotiations on market access offers, rules of origin and ratification to effect implementation of the agreement would be finalized soon.
Zambia has been an active Member State in the negotiations, providing strong leadership especially on key issues of rules of origin, customs, trade facilitation, and trade remedies.
COMESA Assistant Secretary General Ambassador Nagla El Hussainy commended Zambia for signing the TFTA and urged the remaining countries to do so.
“….I would like to congratulate and thank the Government of Zambia for this bold move and a re-statement of its commitment to the tripartite goal. The signing we have witnessed today brings the number of signatories to well over 60% of the tripartite membership,” Ambassador Nagla said.
The Tripartite Free Trade Area was officially launched by Heads of State and Governments in Sharm El Sheikh Egypt on June 10, 2015.
Ambassador Nagla added that by all accounts, it had been expected that outstanding issues for negotiation would have been finalized by now. The outstanding issues that are fundamental for a Free Trade Area are tariff liberalization, rules of origin and the signing and ratification of the TFTA Agreement to make it operational. In some areas there has been progress, although still inadequate.
Once the TFTA is fully operational, it will usher in a single tripartite policy framework covering 26 countries in key regulatory areas affecting and promoting trade and investment. For the first time, this single regulatory regime will cover the three Regional Economic Communities (COMESA, EAC and SADC) in the areas of rules of origin, standards (health and technical), customs cooperation, trade facilitation, trade remedies, non-tariff barriers, and dispute settlement; as well as the general principles and rules on trade in the bigger tripartite region.
In addition, because it covers half of Africa in terms of membership, economic and geographical size, the Tripartite has the critical political and strategic importance of being a launch pad for the Continental FTA negotiations which have already been launched on 15 June 2015 in Johannesburg. The whole world is looking on and waiting with bated breath for progress in the implementation of the Tripartite FTA.
Key next steps for Zambia and other tripartite countries include – ratification of the Tripartite FTA, awareness creation among stakeholders and users especially the business community, manufacturers, and logistics operators about the new opportunities that are opening up, so that Zambia can benefit from the larger tripartite market.
This can be done by adopting a strategy of marketing Zambia as part of the large tripartite market with a harmonized regulatory framework for trade in order to attract investment into the areas prioritized by the country on the basis of comparative and competitive advantage and the goals of diversification of the economy; and actively participating in the negotiations on the remaining issues.
Other countries that have signed the TFTA are Angola, Burundi, Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.