The Tripartite FTA: The great leap forward for regional integration in Africa

23 June 2015

The recent launch of the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) - now the largest free trade area across Africa - ushers in a new framework for trade and integration on the continent.

The proposed “Grand” FTA will stretch from Cape Town 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 TFTA comprises the three largest regional economic communities (RECs) in Africa: the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

It also stands as part of a much more ambitious agenda to establish a continental FTA by 2017, and ultimately, a continental customs union by 2019.

As Africa moves one step closer to consolidating its vision of regional integration, opportunities and challenges - at the global, regional and national level - present themselves along the way. The global landscape is changing with the proliferation of new mega-regionals and preference schemes.

In addition, several regional integration initiatives now operate alongside each other often with overlapping membership. Notwithstanding these developments, structural impediments Such as infrastructure constraints and behind-the border issues persist.

The lead article of this month’s edition unpacks the Tripartite FTA by looking at the nature and implications of the Agreement reached during the Tripartite Summit in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt on 10 June. Other articles reflect critically on the need for better governance at the level of African regional economic communities as well as on the likely impact of the Economic Partnership Agreements on regional integration processes in Africa.

In addition to regional integration, sustainable development lies at the heart of this edition as sustainable development and climate discussions are at the forefront of international negotiations this year. How has the regional integration agenda addressed sustainable development objectives across Africa? In a compelling analysis, the “Africa rising” cliché is analysed in light of climate change constraints from a trade policy lens, while another piece looks at how Africa can build green economies to achieve sustainable development.

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