JOHANNESBURG: After many years of planning and coordinating, African leaders have now moved a step closer to establishing the long-conceived goal of a united African economic community.
The leaders have agreed to formally launch negotiations to establish a grand Free Trade Area (FTA) that would encompass 26 countries in three Regional Economic Communities (RECs), namely the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa), East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The leaders envision members lobbying together for aid and investment, presenting coherent and integrated plans, which include joint projects to improve roads and rail networks and power supply.
The first phase of negotiations on allowing the free movement of goods is expected to take three years. Future negotiations will tackle trade in services and other issues.
The summit also commended planners for recognising the need to build manufacturing capacity and infrastructure.
The creation of a single FTA would see the coming together of a combined population of approximately 700 million people and a Gross Domestic Product of US$875 billion from 26 countries.
This would open borders to approximately half of the continent, spanning the entire southern and eastern regions of Africa - from Cape to Cairo.
In their communiqu, at the end of the second Tripartite Summit held in Sandton on Sunday, 12 June 2011, the leaders signed an agreement to launch talks and adopted the roadmap for the establishment of the FTA.
They also adopted the FTA negotiating principles, processes and institutional framework; and directed that a programme of work and roadmap be developed on industrialisation.
"The establishment of a FTA will bolster intra-regional trade by creating a wider market, increase investment flows, enhance competitiveness and develop cross-regional infrastructure," said the communiqu,, read by Richard Sezibera, Secretary General of EAC.
President Jacob Zuma, in his address to the summit, said the zone will help neighbours work together to alleviate poverty and build industrial capacity.
"There is no single country that can prosper on its own," Zuma said.
The leaders also adopted a developmental approach to the tripartite integration process, saying it will be anchored on three pillars namely: market integration based on the Tripartite FTA; infrastructure development to enhance connectivity and reduce costs of doing business, and industrial development to address productive capacity constraints.
During the one-day summit, the delegates from 26 member countries of the three blocs, discussed how to enhance cooperation and coordination and improve infrastructure to facilitate trade.
The summit reviewed the progress made in the implementation of the decisions of the first Tripartite Summit held in Kampala, Uganda, in October 2008, regarding programmes in trade, customs and economic integration; free movement of business persons and infrastructure development amongst the three RECs.
In the area of infrastructure development, the leaders noted the progress made in the implementation of the tripartite infrastructure programmes; and commended the international cooperating partners and the donor community for the support that was pledged to the North South Corridor at the High Level Conference held in Lusaka, Zambia in 2009.
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