Nairobi: Negotiators of the planned merger of three regional trading bodies to form Africa’s biggest trade bloc will hold a meeting in Cairo next week. Trade officials from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), East African Community (EAC), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are keen to jump-start the project that is facing teething problems, ahead of the planned integration. The agenda is expected to include finalisation and adoption of the tariff negotiation modalities, review of the work plan of the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TTNF) — particularly the negotiating schedule, and review of the reports of the technical working groups, according to a statement from Comesa.
Mr Richard Sindiga, director of economic affairs in the EAC Ministry (Kenya), said negotiations have been narrowed down to regional levels, with task forces put in place across the three member blocs. The taskforces meet often to discuss elimination of trade barriers and harmonising of the rules.
“We can only talk of how far the negotiations have gone when we come to a conclusion, meanwhile we are negotiating at bloc level, but there is progress,” said Mr Sindiga.
The three African trading blocs are made up of 26 countries with a market of close to 600 million people, and an estimated gross domestic product of $624 billion.
Since the launch of the Tripartite Free Trade Area in June 2010, the TTNF has met four times with next week marking its fifth meeting. Its first meeting of December 2011 adopted the Tripartite Negotiating Forum rules of procedure and terms of reference.
The forum has since established three technical working groups to negotiate specialised themes, such as customs and transit, barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary standards and non-tariff barriers
Infrastructure remains a big concern especially for EAC and Comesa members compared with their counterparts in SADC.
The EAC is also yet to revive the industries that would give its member states competitive advantage against members in other blocs. The region still exports most of its products, including coffee, cotton and tea, in raw form, only to be imported at a higher price.
In Kenya, for example, the cotton and leather industries have received a blow, with ginneries closed even as the country continues to import processed goods.
Mr Frank Matsaert, chief executive officer of TradeMark East Africa, said without addressing major infrastructure and trade facilitation constraints, the economic growth of East Africa could be compromised over the next decade.
* By SCOLA KAMAU| THE EAST AFRICAN | Monday, November 26 2012 at 11:33