Martedì, Novembre 28, 2023
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Tripartite organs review progress on the implementation of the TFTA

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On Tuesday, 28 March 2023, the Ministers in charge of trade, customs, finance, economic matters and home/internal affairs from the 3 Regional Economic Communities (RECs) that compose the Tripartite met virtually to review progress on the implementation of various activities under the Tripartite Free Trade Area Agreement (TFTA). The last meeting of such Ministers was held in 2019. Since then, progress has been reported especially on the market integration pillar, particularly on the exchange of tariff offers and on rules of origin.

The TFTA was launched in 2015 with the aim to combine into an enlarged Free Trade Area (FTA) the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern Africa Development Cooperation (SADC). The Tripartite aims at achieving 100 percent tariff liberation (except for general and specific security exemptions) of which 60 percent to 85 percent tariff lines are to be liberalized upon entry into force of the agreement and 15 - 40 percent of the remaining tariff lines are to be negotiated within a successive period of 5-8 years.

So far, negotiations have also been concluded on the product-specific rules of origin (Annex IV of the Agreement), which now cover 90% out of a total 5,387 tariff lines. Products on which an agreement has not yet be reached include the textiles and automobiles sectors. However, in order to be applicable, such rules require the TFTA Agreement to enter into force. Currently, out of the 22 Tripartite States who have signed the Agreement, only 11 have ratified it, while a minimum threshold of 14 ratifications is needed for the Agreement to enter into force. Countries that ratified the TFTA include Egypt, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda, Burundi, Botswana, Namibia, Eswatini, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Malawi and Tanzania have however reported to have initiated the ratification processes. Other countries signatory of the TFTA that have not yet ratified the agreement include Lesotho, Angola, Somalia, DR Congo, South Sudan, Libya, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Eritrea, Seychelles, Madagascar, Tunisia, Djibouti, Comoros and Sudan.

Among the key challenges hindering operationalization of the TFTA is the absence of a permanent Secretariat, as the institutional structure that is responsible for coordinating and implementing its programmes and activities is a Tripartite Task Force which rotates annually among the three RECs.

Another key milestone of the TFTA which was mentioned at the Meeting was the Tripartite Non-Tariff Barriers reporting, monitoring and resolution platform, an online tool that has allowed so far the quick resolution of many NTBs in the Tripartite area.

The Tripartite is also benefitting from the EU support through the €18 million Tripartite Transport and Trade Facilitation Programme (TTTFP), which aims at introducing harmonised road transport policies, laws, regulations, systems and standards for the cross-border movement of drivers, vehicles and loads in the region, in an attempt to reduce transport costs and delays at borders. Among such regulations, two multilateral agreements, the Vehicle Load Management Agreement (VLMA) and the Multilateral Cross-Border Road Transport Agreement (MCBRTA), aim at harmonizing, respectively, the axle load and vehicle dimensions limits in the region (including sanctions, violations and points demerit systems related to their non-compliance) and cross-border regulation of road transport. The MCBRTA, in particular, aims at replacing the myriad of bilateral cross-border road transport agreements that are currently in force between couples of States in the Tripartite Region with a harmonized framework. However, in order to enter into force, these two agreements need to be ratified by a minimum number of 14 Tripartite countries. Lastly, the TTTFP supports the development of the TRIPS (Transport Register and Information Platform System) and CMTS (Corridor Trip Monitoring System) systems (for more information on these systems, read here).

The yesterday’s ministerial meeting will be followed by the 5th Tripartite Council of Ministers, scheduled for today, 29 March 2023.

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