South Africa has signed the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) agreement, a development that has injected fresh momentum into the tripartite negotiations to create a free trade area covering half of Africa.
A statement from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) says this brings the total number of countries that have signed to 19.
A total of 14 ratifications are required for the agreement to enter into force, according to the statement.
“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 Francis Mangeni who was in the negotiating team.
The meeting in Kampala, Uganda, finalised 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. The final annex was on simplifying the tariff schedules, which countries would submit for attaching to the agreement as and when they finalise them. Mauritius and Seychelles had already submitted their tariff schedules,” said Mangeni.
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.
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.
Malawi signed on to the tripartite agreement but it is yet to be ratified Parliament. Uganda said it would complete its ratification process by end of August 2017.
The TFTA is a proposed African free trade agreement between Comesa, Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and East African Community (EAC).