New Deadline set for Ratification of Tripartite Free Trade Area

Member States of the 28 tripartite group of regional economic communities in eastern and southern Africa have set June 30 as the deadline to achieve the threshold of ratification of the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA). This will be on the six year anniversary since the launch of the TFTA Agreement on 10 June 2015 in Egypt.

The new deadline was set during the 2nd Extra-Ordinary Meeting of the Tripartite Council of Ministers that took place virtually on Monday, 15 February 2021.

The tripartite group brings together member/partner States of COMESA, the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).

In their discussions, the Ministers noted that the commencement of implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) this year, provides the best impetus to countries that have not ratified the TFTA to do so.

“The countries that ratified the agreement have not realized the benefits they had expected as they have been held back by those that have not,” the Ministers said noting that some have ratified the AfCTA and not the TFTA.

The Agreement establishing the AfCFTA was signed in March 2018, (three years after the TFTA) and entered into force on 30 May, 2019 after attaining the threshold ratification of 24 countries.  The work already done under the tripartite framework contributed to the speedy implementation of the continental trade regime.

The COMESA, EAC and SADC Member and Partner States represent 53 percent of the African Union membership, constitute over US$1.4 trillion Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is roughly 60 percent of African continental GDP and a combined estimated population of 800 million, making the TFTA an important building block for the implementation of the AfCFTA.

Currently, 10 member/partner States have ratified the agreement with four more needed to attain the ratification threshold of 14 countries which will enable the TFTA to enter into force. These are Botswana,  Burundi, Egypt, Eswatini,  Kenya,  Namibia, Rwanda,  Uganda, South Africa and Zambia.

The Ministers advised countries to delink outstanding negotiations with ratification as these usually continue even after. Besides, the team of experts conducting the negotiations confirmed they will be concluded before June this year.

Besides the TFTA ratification, the Ministers adopted the guidelines for management and monitoring of safe cross border movement of persons and personal goods while mitigating the spread of the Coronavirus.

Speaking at the meeting,  the Chairperson, Hon. Soraya Hakuziyaremye, Minister of Trade and Industry, Rwanda, urged countries to implement the guidelines.

“These guidelines will serve as a  basis for all tripartite member States to draft their national rules to facilitate the movement of people and goods across all countries,” she said.

The guidelines will facilitate the harmonization of national guidelines for the re-opening of all modes of transport including air, land and sea borders for mass movement persons and personal goods in line with national laws and regulations.

The Tripartite Council of Ministers meeting was also attended by the Chief Executives of the COMESA-EAC-SADC, H.E. Chileshe Kapwepwe, H.E. Ambassador Liberat Mfumukeko and H.E Dr Stergomena Tax and Senior Officials.