On 12 June, 2011, the Heads of State and Government of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development community (SADC) met and signed a declaration launching negotiations for the establishment of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Free Trade Area (FTA).
The Common Market for COMESA-EAC-SADC comprises 26 countries with a combined population of nearly 600 million people and a total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of approximately US$1.0 trillion. The main objective of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite is strengthening and deepening economic integration of the southern and eastern Africa region. This will be achieved through harmonisation of policies and programmes across the three Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in the areas of trade, customs and infrastructure development.
The Tripartite Cooperation between COMESA-EAC-SADC is explained through the following sections:
- Tripartite Vision and Strategy
- Tripartite Summit
- COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Institutional Framework
- Tripartite Coordination
Tripartite Vision and Strategy
The three main pillars of the Tripartite Strategy, as contained in the Vision and Strategy document (endorsed at the second Tripartite Summit in June 2011) are as follows:
- Market Integration
- Infrastructure Development
- Industrial Development
The Tripartite Vision is to improve the economic and social welfare of the citizens of the COMESA-EAC-SADC region, through the promotion of regional economic growth by creating an enabling environment for regional trade.
The Tripartite Strategy strives to achieve economic growth through the reduction of (tariff and non-tariff) barriers to trade. The strategy includes the implementation of programmes to design and roll-out the Tripartite Free Trade Area, harmonisation and implementation of trade and transport facilitation measures, and design and implementation of infrastructure to support trade.
The Tripartite agenda is focused on, and underpinned by, a robust Vision and Strategy, which is operationalised through a work programme whose main pillars include the following:
- Harmonisation and improvement of functionality of regional trading arrangements and programmes, including establishing a Tripartite Free Trade Area encompassing its 26 member countries - a major step towards establishment of the African Economic Community.
- Enhancement of trade facilitation to improve the flow of goods along regional transport corridors by lowering transit times and the cost of trading.
- Joint planning and implementation of infrastructure programmes, which mainly comprises surface (road, rail, border posts, seaports) and air transport, ICT, and energy.
- Free movement of business persons within the Tripartite region.
During the formative meeting of the Heads of State and Government of the COMESA-EAC-SADC, the following activities were completed:
- Establishment of a Tripartite Free Trade Area to bolster intra-regional trade through the creation of a wider market, increased investment flows, enhanced competitiveness and development of cross-regional infrastructure. The SADC region accounts for half of the membership of the African Union (AU), contributes just over 58% of total GDP, and 57% of the total population;
- Adoption of a developmental approach to the Tripartite Integration process that will be anchored on three (3) pillars namely:
- Market integration based on the Tripartite Free Trade Area (FTA);
- Infrastructure Development to enhance connectivity and reduce costs of doing business; and
- Industrial development to address productive capacity constraints.
Agreement that the Tripartite Initiative is a decisive step to achieve the African vision of establishing the African Economic Community envisioned in the following documents:
- Lagos Plan of Action and the Final Act of Lagos of 1980
- Abuja Treaty of 1991
- The Resolution of the African Union Summit held in Banjul, Gambia in 2006 that directed the African Union Commission and the Regional Economic Communities to harmonise and coordinate policies and programmes of Regional Economic Communities, as important strategies for rationalisation; and to put in place mechanisms to facilitate the process of harmonisation and coordination within and among the Regional Economic Communities.
The Tripartite Summit also:
- Adopted the roadmap for establishing the Tripartite Free Trade Area.
- Directed that a programme of work and roadmap be developed for the industrialisation pillar.
- Adopted the negotiating Principles, Processes and Institutional Framework of the Tripartite Free Trade.
COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Institutional Framework
The COMESA-EAC-SADC Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) underpins the legal and institutional framework for the Tripartite process, and establishes the Tripartite Coordination Mechanism, consisting of the following organs:
- Tripartite Summit - consisting of the Heads of State and/or Government of COMESA, EAC and SADC, who shall meet at least once every two years, and shall be the highest organ of the Tripartite arrangement.
- Tripartite Council of Ministers - meeting at least once every two years.
- Tripartite Sectoral Ministerial Committee on Trade, Finance, Customs, Economic Matters and Home/Internal Affairs; which shall meet at least once a year.
- Tripartite Sectoral Ministerial Committee on Infrastructure - meeting at least once a year.
- Tripartite Sectoral Ministerial Committee on Legal Affairs - meeting at least once a year.
- Any other Ministerial Committees that the Tripartite Council of Ministers may establish - meeting at least once a year.
- Tripartite Committees of Senior Officials and of Experts - meeting at least once every year.
- Tripartite Task Force of the Secretariats of the three RECs - meeting at least twice a year.
The COMESA-EAC-SADC MoU also stipulates that each party shall establish a permanent Unit within its Secretariat for the Coordination of the Mechanism for the harmonisation of the agreed programmes. Tripartite Coordination Units have since been established in each of the 3 Regional Economic Communities:
- The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)
- East African Community (EAC)
- Southern African Development Community (SADC)