The COMESA, EAC and SADC Tri-partite Free Trade Agreement: Prospects and Challenges for the Regions and Africa
MetadataShow full item record
The tri-partite initiative in and for Africa has been accompanied by high levels of optimism since its political endorsement in 2008. It provides for an opportunity to resolve a host of problems with regards to regional integration in Eastern and Southern Africa. The overall aim of this study is to explore the prospects and challenges towards realising the Tri-partite Free Trade Area (T-FTA) in and for Africa. This study is pragmatic and implicitly seeks to uncover how the T-FTA could contribute to the African Regional Integration Project (ARIP), given the challenges that regional integration face in Africa. Regional integration has a long and rich history in Africa, which started at thehave been weak since the start and persist in its superficial nature with littledevelopmental impact. The reasons for the lack of meaningful integration in Africa are wide-ranging and span national, regional and system level analytical viewpoints. They encompass areas such as developmental levels, political will, respect for regional architecture, overlapping membership and the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). These factors impact on the integration process in Africa and explain in varied ways why there has been little comprehensive economic integration. The starting point was to define the complex concept of regional integration. The dominant factors that define and affect regional integration in this study are that it is a state-based exercise, driven by economic integration, and influenced by the global political economy of the day. It was determined that Africa has adapted its regional integration strategies according to the shifts and influences in the global political economy on states, emanating from the post WWII period to the present day. The mpact of the global economy on Africa since independence was great and is viewed impact on the integration process. Regional integration is essentially a state to state pursuit for integration. Essentially, regional integration is being pursued by states that are still struggling to consolidate statehood, and this leaves little space to move towards a regional approach. However, given the dynamics of a globalised world, regional integration as a strategy is no longer questioned in Africa and is an important component of its developmental agenda. Clarifying the T-FTA was important, and this was done in order to highlight what the tri-partite initiative is and is not. This provided for an opportunity to investigate what the dominant areas are that have informed the emergence of the tri-partite process. The former was found to be largely economic in nature, focusing on harmonising the trade regimes of COMESA, EAC and SADC as a primary motivation. The tri-partite initiative will facilitate and encourage the harmonisation of trade regimes by stressing market integration, infrastructure development and industrialisation, coupled by a developmental approach. This is promising, as the tri-partite initiative seeks to simultaneously deal with many issues that have been commonly associated with the problems that regional integration face in Africa. When viewing the negotiating context, as well as the principles upon which it is to be based, indicate though, that Africa still favours individual state interest that will be hard to reconcile given that the tri-partite region currently has 26 participant states. In terms of economic integration, the T-FTA seeks to put new generation trade issues on the agenda by including services, movement of persons as well as trade facilitation, all of which have been found to be important in realising a trade in goods agenda that is the focus of regional integration in Africa. Analysing the grassroots realities of the market integration pillar offered some valuable insights towards the purposes of this study. The market integration pillar is inundated with challenges, with Rules of Origin (RoO) being the primary challenge towards consolidating the trade in goods agenda on a tri-partite level. New generation trade issues are going to be equally difficult to realise, given that they have no implementation record in the individual Regional Economic Communities (RECs). Promising though is that trade facilitation has already seen positive results by resolving non tariff barriers in the regions.Infrastructure development is equally challenging, although it provides a significant opportunity to create better connectivity (physical integration) between states. In lot of pan-African goals that directly feed into initiatives of the African Union (AU) pillar has not as yet created any concrete tri-partite plans, so it remains to be seen what can be achieved. Ideally, industrialisation is viewed as the pillar that will solve the supply-side constraints of African economies hence, strengthening the trade in goods agenda in the regions. Even though the T-FTA has practical challenges to implementation, there are at least two underlying factors that indirectly affect the prospects of realising the tripartite initiative. The EPAs are an emergent threat in that they run parallel to tripartite negotiations; and respect for a rules based integration process, are issues that warrant consideration. Fundamentally, in order to achieve a successful T-FTA will require a shift in the way business is done in African integration. African states need to realise that their national interests are best served through cooperation, in meaningful ways. Inevitably this requires good faith as well as ceding some sovereignty towards regional goals. Thus, there is a risk that the T-FTA not realised. The fundamentals of political will, economic polarisation and instability have to be resolved. This will lay an appropriate foundation for the tripartite initiative to be sustainable, with developmental impact.