The Member States of the three Regional Economic Organisations of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) launched the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area on 12th June 2011. The Tripartite Free Trade Area aims to reduce tariffs imposed on goods originating in the region and traded in the region.
However, in addition to tariff barriers, the region’s producers and traders also face a number of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs). An integral part of the Tripartite Free Trade Area, therefore, is the design and implementation of a programme aimed reducing Non-Tariff Barriers to trade.
Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) refer to non-tariff related trade restrictions resulting from prohibitions, conditions or specific requirements that make importation and exportation of goods difficult or expensive. The elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers was identified as a priority at the First Tripartite Summit which took place in October, 2008.
Legal instruments of the three Regional Economic Communities namely; Articles 49 and 50 of the COMESA Treaty, Articles 75(5) of the East African Community Treaty and Article 6 of the SADC Protocol on Trade, provide for the elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers to trade and further prohibit the introduction of new ones. Article 10(1) of the Tripartite Agreement calls on Tripartite member States to eliminate all existing Non-Tariff Barriers to trade with other member States and not impose any new ones.
COMESA, EAC and SADC have, in the past, developed different mechanisms to identify report and monitor elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers and resolve disputes. These mechanisms have, to a great extent, identified all the common NTBs encountered in the region and the frequency at which they occur and has attempted to facilitate resolution of the same through resolution at the Council of Ministers level and other consultative processes. The existing mechanisms that are in place were the starting points for the design of the on-line Tripartite NTB Monitoring, Removal and Reporting Mechanism, as well as the process for elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers to trade.