Southern African News Features                                           SANF 11 No 03, Jan 2011
2011: Strengthening regional integration

The year 2011 will move southern Africa another step closer to becoming a regional community, as one of the building blocks of a united Africa with its African Economic Community.

This has been the vision of the continent’s leaders for the past 60 years, and was agreed in writing 20 years ago when the AEC Treaty was approved by African Heads of State and Government in 1991.

Southern Africa is expected to take this step towards deeper regional and continental integration when three Regional Economic Communities (RECs) encompassing 26 countries in eastern and southern Africa – almost half of all African countries – approve a plan this year to establish a Grand Free Trade Area (GFTA).

A draft plan of action on the GFTA has already been approved by the tripartite secretariat, involving the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community (EAC), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

The three RECs have endorsed the roadmap in individually as separate economic blocs at their Summits held in 2010.

This sets the stage for the historic GFTA agreement, expected to be approved at the Tripartite Summit of Heads of State and Government set for early this year. South Africa is expected to host the summit, and implementation is expected to begin as early as next year, in 2012.

The creation of a GFTA with a combined population of about 570 million people and a Gross Domestic Product of US$625 billion would open borders to literally half of the continent, spanning the entire southern and eastern regions of Africa, from Cape to Cairo.

This would facilitate the smooth movement of goods and services across member countries, boosting intra-regional trade and expanding business options and trade opportunities. .

SADC leaders are also expected to meet in August at their annual Summit of Heads of State and Government set for Luanda, Angola to chart the way forward to the launch of the much-anticipated SADC Customs Union.

The Customs Union, expected last year, was deferred to a later date to allow Member States to fully implement the SADC Free Trade Area (FTA) launched in 2008.

SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salomão said at the last Summit that "launching the Customs Union in 2010 is not possible. The question is what we can do as the way forward."

A Customs Union is a higher level of economic integration compared to a FTA. In contrast to a FTA, which has a common tariff regime internally but allows each country to maintain its own tariffs with non-SADC members, a Customs Union requires all members to have a common external tariff.

The COMESA and EAC already have FTAs and customs unions. The establishment of a single FTA by 2012 would result in the three groupings coalescing into a grand FTA with the ultimate goal of a single Customs Union.

In terms of regional projects development, southern African is expected to experience significant investment this year, particularly along the North-South Corridor following the approval of development funds.

The North-South Corridor traverses eight countries in east and southern African and is a combination of two traditional corridors – the Durban Corridor and the Dar es Salaam Corridor, linking the port of Durban and others in southern Africa with the eastern port of Dar es Salaam.

COMESA, EAC and SADC identified the corridor for the Aid for Trade programme because it is the busiest in the region in terms of values and volumes of freight.

Over US$1.2 billion was raised to upgrade road, rail and port infrastructure as well as to support trade along the North-South Corridor.

Tripartite Taskforce chairperson Juma Mwapachu, who is also the EAC General-Secretary, has already announced that preparations are at an advanced stage to launch a second One-Stop Border Post at the Namanga crossing between Tanzania and Kenya.

The Chirundu border post between Zambia and Zimbabwe was the first One-Stop Border Post, officially opened for business in November 2009.

The One-Stop border initiative is planned for implementation across all major border posts in the enlarged community so that there is smooth movement of goods and services among the 26 Member States.

Under the one-stop scheme, travellers are cleared just once for passage into another country in contrast with the current situation when they have to be processed on both sides of the border, addressing issues of delays experienced at most border posts as well as the often perceived "restrictive" operational procedures at borders.

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SANF is produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), which has monitored regional developments since 1985

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