Wednesday, December 17, 2008

African blocs meet over FTA

By FRANCIS AYIEKO, The East African, 06/12/2008

The chief executives of three major African trade blocs will meet in Swaziland on December 12 to work out the roadmap for establishing a single Free Trade Area.

Establishing a common Free Trade Area was one of the key decisions reached by the first tripartite summit of the East Africa Community, the Southern Africa Development Community and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa held in Uganda, in October.

The three secretariats are expected to finalise a study on how to set up a Free Trade Area before the expiry of the six-month deadline given by the summit.

The planned merger is expected to lead to the attainment of an African Economic Community with a population of over 527 million people and a combined GDP of $624 billion.

The tripartite summit resolved that the three regional economic communities should immediately start working towards a merger into a single regional economic community with the objective of fast tracking the attainment of a larger trading bloc.

Among the first steps taken to fast-track integration was an order to the three regional secretariats to develop a roadmap within six months for the establishment of a Free Trade Area and measures to facilitate the movement of business persons across the regions.

According to the 26 heads of states who met in Kampala, the Free Trade Area will pave the way for a single Customs Union, thereby ending import taxes on goods originating from member states and non-tariff barriers to trade within the bigger region.

A special Tripartite Council of Ministers was directed to meet within 12 months to consider the study report on the roadmap towards the Free Trade Area and determine the timeframe within which that should happen.

The Swaziland meeting is the second since the Kampala tripartite meeting. The first took place in Nairobi in November. It discussed how best to implement to set up the Free Trade Area.