Southern African News Features                                           SANF 12 No 16, April 2012

Eastern and southern Africa prepares for deeper economic integration

As eastern and southern Africa prepares for an integrated market covering 26 countries, there is need to set a more manageable and practical agenda that all member states can fully implement.

The Tripartite Free Trade Area, which seeks to establish a single market in the region comprising the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), is expected to come into force by 2016, according to a roadmap developed by the three Regional Economic Communities (RECs).

If this happens, intra-regional trade is expected to increase sharply and deepen regional integration through improved investment flows and enhanced competition.

In addition to the traditional concerns regarding tariff reductions and the need to set up relevant institutions to cope with the intricacies of cross-border trade, debate in the build up to the so-called “Grand” FTA is shifting towards the importance of developing realistic and achievable targets.

This is in light of the challenges already being faced by individual RECs in fully implementing their respective regional programmes. Speaking at a regional trade conference held in Cape Town, South Africa on 19-20 April, trade experts said there was need for regional economic communities to set realistic targets in their pursuit of deeper integration.

“A lot is happening in eastern and southern Africa in terms of regional integration. But the region is on the back foot because it cannot meet its targets due to unrealistic timeframes,” said Mark Pearson, programme director at TradeMark Southern Africa. He said there was need for governments, the private sector and other stakeholders in eastern and southern Africa to work together in coming up with achievable targets that could be implemented within the agreed timeframe.

Trade Law Centre (Tralac) executive director, Trudi Hartzenberg concurred, saying eastern and southern Africa has shown strong political will to promote deeper regional integration among member states. However, implementation has proved to be a major challenge.

She said the full implementation of agreed programmes would transform eastern and southern Africa into one of the most lucrative regions in the continent. “The establishment of the Tripartite Free Trade Area covering 26 countries in eastern and southern would mark the beginning of a new era in the region and the rest of the continent,” she said.

To achieve this goal, the region should address its infrastructural challenges by rehabilitating roads, rail and ports, she said. The proposed “Grand” FTA will stretch from Cape to Cairo – creating an integrated market with a combined population of almost 600 million people and a total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about US$1 trillion.

The “Grand” FTA is within the framework of establishing an African Economic Community and the overall African Union Vision and Strategy presented in the 1980 Lagos Plan of Action and the Abuja Treaty of 1991

Pastory Masombe, a senior official from the Tanzanian Ministry of Planning said, despite the challenges, eastern and southern Africa has more to gain from working together.

“The benefits of joint projects far outweigh the challenges,” he said, adding that eastern and southern Africa should collectively confront its challenges. Another trade expert, Gerhard Erasmus said lack of capacity and sensitive nat

ional interests often hinder the implementation process but noted that “this does not mean that efforts at regional integration should be abandoned.” The trade conference also said the respective RECs should first address their individual capacity challenges to ensure the proposed “Grand” FTA is successful.

The regional trade conference was organized by Tralac and brought together law and trade experts from eastern and southern Africa. The experts sought to review the trade agenda of eastern and southern Africa. Southern African News Features offers a reliable source of regional information and analysis on the Southern African Development Community, and is provided as a service to the SADC region.

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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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