The Tripartite Free Trade Area and its Implications for COMESA, the EAC and SADC

The establishment of a Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) which would combine the members of three existing regional economic communities, i.e. the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), was decided at the 2008 Tripartite Summit. The purpose of the TFTA will be to harmonise trade arrangements among SADC, COMESA and EAC, improve the movement of persons within the region, facilitate the joint implementation of infrastructure projects and enhance co-operation of members.

One of the TFTA’s objectives is to help avoid the problems of overlapping membership in regional economic communities. However, this benefit will only materialise if the TFTA will replace the existing communities, at least in the long term. Otherwise, it would create another layer of regional integration and might even further complicate trade and hence increase transaction costs for both importers and exporters.

The TFTA, COMESA, EAC and SADC therefore need a strategy for harmonisation. This will have to address legal, policy, economic and institutional issues. The future roles of the communities and their institutions under the new TFTA framework need to be defined in such a way as to avoid duplication of responsibilities and inefficient use of resources.

The paper provides ideas for the definition of such a strategy. Based on a review of regional integration processes in the Caribbean as well as lessons drawn from the political economy of regional integration a proposal is developed on how the TFTA could be implemented and what the roles of the regional economic communities would be within the TFTA framework. Based on the proposal, both COMESA and SADC would lose some of their responsibilities while the EAC and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) would continue to operate as poles of regional integration within the framework of the TFTA.

Trade and development discussion paper no. 01/2010, May 2010

Keywords: Regional economic integration, Sub-Saharan Africa, COMESA, SADC, EAC

JEL Classification: F13, F14, F15, O19

Download this paper from SSRN.