The Tripartite Summit, involving Heads of State and Governments from 26 African countries that took place in Egypt between 7 and 10 June 2015, set the stage to launch the COMESA, EAC and SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA). This is in line with the agreement reached by the Tripartite Sectoral Committee of Ministers meeting in Burundi in October, and will serve as the launching pad for the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) in 2017- a process that has been nearly a decade in the making.

ey_africa_2012_map_africa_trade_areaOnce established, the TFTA will be the largest economic bloc on the continent, offering an improved and harmonised trading regime to member states, and allowing for the free trade of goods and services provided that they comply with applicable Standards and Rules of Origin. These countries will see the elimination of overlapping trade regimes caused by multiple memberships, which will in turn reduce the costs of doing business.

Over the past decade, Imani Development has been supporting the TFTA initiative. Through the DFID-funded Regional Trade Facilitation Programme for Southern Africa (2003-2009), Imani was instrumental in initiating and subsequently supporting the negotiations for the TFTA between COMESA, SADC and the EAC. This project worked closely with the Secretariats of COMESA and SADC, and latterly with the EAC, to facilitate their integration agendas both regionally and nationally for key public and private sector stakeholders. Imani, through this project, organized the first Tripartite Heads of State meeting in October 2008 and subsequently provided the embryonic Secretariat for the TFTA.

The building blocks of the TFTA are the Regional Economic Communities of COMESA, EAC and SADC. For over thirty years, Imani Development has been supporting the integration agendas of these communities. Through a number of technical studies and capacity building initiatives, Imani was instrumental in the establishment of the COMESA Free Trade Area and helped pave the way for the Common External Tariff and Customs Union. Over the years, a series of engagements with SADC have supported the development and implementation of their Free Trade Area Protocol, and Imani has also supported the re-establishment of the EAC and the development of their Customs Union Furthermore, Imani has facilitated the enlargement of the EAC to include Rwanda, and is currently involved with the possible ascension of South Sudan.

Due to the diversity of TFTA member states, all stakeholders in the process need to assess the very different implications and effects the proposed regime will have across the board. Imani has been at the forefront of providing technical assistance to this extent to various governments and RECs throughout the Eastern and Southern African region. Imani assisted the SACU Secretariat and the East African Business Council to determine the potential economic impact of the proposed TFTA on the respective regions in which they operate. These studies provide guidance for these bodies on their participation in, and influence on, possible negotiations. Similarly, for the British High Commission, Imani conducted a study on the potential impact of the TFTA on Botswana.

More recently, Imani Development has been providing technical assistance and capacity building support to the Malawi Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Lesotho Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives. Part of this support will entail the respective countries engagement in TFTA affairs and negotiations.

The TFTA is an exciting initiative in Africa and we look forward to engaging with public, private, regional economic communities and development organisations in this area. Stay tuned to our Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages for more project updates.