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The Tripartite Free Trade Area Negotiations: Lessons Learned

23 October 2017

The Hub and Spokes programme provides trade experts to national ministries and regional trade organisations in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states.

Racheal Kemigisha is a trade adviser working with the Hub and Spokes programme. She is based in Zambia at the Common Market for Eastern Africa, East African Community (COMESA). In this blog Rachael outlines the lessons learnt from negotiations, taking a look at the Tripartite Free Trade Area Agreement.

In 2008, the Heads of State of the Common Market for Eastern Africa, East African Community (COMESA), East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) made the decision to establish a single Free Trade Area, giving rise to the grand project to form the Tripartite Free Trade Area. This decision was both bold and forward-looking. Their ambition was to merge three successful Regional Economic Communities, bringing together 26 countries that represent 54% of the African Union membership, creating a market of 632 million people, with a combined GDP of USD 1.3 trillion as of 2015. The Tripartite FTA will enable the free movement of goods, services and business persons all of which stimulate economic activity in the region thereby improving the lives of ordinary people across the region.

The Tripartite adopted a developmental approach and is anchored on three pillars; Market Integration, Infrastructure Development and Industrial Development. The three REC Secretariats undertook the necessary technical preparation and negotiations were launched in commenced in 2011.

Since 2014 the Hub and Spokes II Programme has contributed to the Tripartite process through technical advisory services delivered by the Trade Adviser.  As an adviser I have provided analysis requested by Member States, supported the negotiations on Trade Remedies and Dispute Settlement, the legal review of the Tripartite FTA Agreement and its 10 Annexes and provided technical guidance to higher levels of the Tripartite structures. The technical work I have undertaken in the Tripartite has led to resolving deadlocks in the negotiations, shaping the trade remedies regime and Dispute Settlement Mechanism for the Tripartite and ensuring that the TFTA Agreement in its entirety is legally sound and capable of being interpreted and implemented by Member/Partner States.

Some of the key lessons I have learnt in my role from the Tripartite process negotiations include:

  • The importance of relevant and accurate data is key in developing informed country positions which are more likely to influence the negotiations and result in consensus. From the perspective of the Secretariat, well researched and articulated analytical work is able to positively influence the negotiations, break deadlocks and ultimately result in an outcome that will benefit the Tripartite region.
  • National consultations prior to negotiations are critical in developing inclusive and informed negotiating positions, affording public and private sector actors the opportunity to provide input into country positions.
  • Flexibility and the ability to adjust one’s position as negotiations progress is key and this is far more likely if the subject matter experts are at the negotiating table. However, in practice this has not always been possible due to the capacity constraints that countries face in participating in negotiations.
  • Harnessing progress in the negotiations is key to moving the Tripartite agenda forward. It is during these periods that countries are spurred to take positive steps forward. An example is the ratification of the TFTA Agreement by Egypt on 3 May 2017, making them the first Member State to do so. Uganda has followed suit and is currently in the process of ratifying the Agreement.  Fourteen (14) ratifications are required for the Agreement to come into force.  

Tripartite Member/Partner States have demonstrated their continued commitment to the grand idea that is the Tripartite FTA. As an adviser in this process, one continues to learn and adjust to the dynamic nature of negotiations ensuring that the technical support provided facilitates the process leading to the realization of the Tripartite FTA.