South Africa signs tripartite free trade agreement
The signing of the tripartite free trade area agreement by South Africa in Kampala has injected fresh momentum into the tripartite negotiations to create a free trade area covering half of Africa.
This brings the total number of countries that have signed to 19. A total of 14 ratifications are required for the Agreement to enter force.
“South Africa signed the Agreement the very hour that the remaining three Annexes to the Tripartite Agreement were adopted by the Ministers following the conclusion of the ministerial meeting,” said the COMESA Director of Trade and Customs Dr Francis Mangeni who was in the negotiating team.
The meeting finalized and adopted the three remaining Annexes (on rules of origin, trade remedies and dispute settlement), thus producing the full Tripartite Agreement.
While the main Agreement had been signed on 10 June 2015, six out of the 10 Annexes had by then been negotiated and cleaned up by the lawyers. Three Annexes, though negotiated, were yet to be scrubbed by the lawyers and were on this ground considered outstanding.
A few other issues had yet to be tied up, such as preparing guidelines under the Annex on trade remedies, Dr Mangeni said. The final Annex was on simplifying the tariff schedules, which countries would submit for attaching to the Agreement as and when they finalize them. Mauritius and Seychelles had already submitted their tariff schedules.
These three outstanding Annexes had meant that the Tripartite Agreement was not complete, and this had been advanced by a number of countries as the reason they could not sign or ratify the Agreement.
Dr Mangeni said: “The adoption of the three remaining Annexes represented a milestone in the Tripartite negotiations, as it finally removed the last obstacle to signing and ratifying the Agreement.”
Uganda said it would complete its ratification process by end of August 2017.
The tripartite ministers set a new time frame of three months that is, 30 October 2017, for completing outstanding issues, especially tariff negotiations and ratification of the Agreement.
At the launching of the tripartite free trade area on 10 June 2015, in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, the Heads of State set a timeframe of 12 months for finalizing tariff negotiations and other outstanding issues. That time frame was missed and in October 2016, the ministers set a new timeframe of April 2017. That too was missed.
“The new date is expected to be different because of the apparent existential risk the tripartite faces from the Continental free trade area expected to be launched by the end of 2017,” the director said.
Covering half the African continent, COMESA-EAC-SADC tripartite was to be a launch pad for the CFTA as it means that more than half the job of creating the continental framework was done.