South Africa has ratified the Tripartite Free Trade Agreement (TFTA), becoming the fourth member state to do so after Egypt, Uganda, and Kenya.
The South African Government sent a notification of ratification to the Chair of the Tripartite Task Force, Chileshe Kapwepwe, the Secretary General of COMESA said, on Tuesday.
Kapwepwe said that this development moves the Tripartite process to near operationalisation.
She added that the process of ratification has been set in motion in a number of member states, and it is expected that this target will be reached by end of April 2019, which is the deadline that the Tripartite member states set for themselves. With this latest development, 10 more ratifications will be needed for the agreement to enter into force.
For his part, Francis Mangeni, a member of the technical negotiating team and COMESA director of Trade and Customs, said that this development is a step towards achieving the Tripartite Free Trade Area Agreement, which groups 29 of the 55 countries negotiating the African continental Free Trade Area.
Mangeni added that all the annexes to the TFTA agreement have been concluded.
Based on the provisions on transitional arrangements, he explained, once the threshold for the minimum number of ratifications is achieved, afterwards, the implementation phase of the agreement will immediately commence, on the basis of the principle of variable geometry. “This is aided further by the fact that the exchange of tariff offers is near complete,” Mangeni explained.
All the member states, including the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) countries, East African Community (EAC) countries, and Egypt, chose to offer their respective Regional Economic Communities’ preferential arrangements, and were therefore not negotiating tariff offers, according to Mangeni.
Mangeni pointed out that the negotiations between the EAC and Egypt are complete.
“Those between the SACU and Egypt, as well as the SACU and the EAC are nearing completion. In the latter case, divergence has narrowed down to just one product line. All the negotiating parties have agreed to a deadline of December 2018”, he noted.
He revealed that negotiations on the Tripartite rules of origin are highly advanced. From the total of 5,387 tariff lines, Rules of Origin have now been developed for 3,267 tariff lines, representing 60.8% of all the tariff lines.
Mangeni said that several tripartite instruments have also been developed, and are now ready for use. The tripartite guidelines on implementation of Trade Remedies are ready for use, and so are certificates of origin, export declaration, and import declaration forms, among others.
In addition, the Tripartite Agreement on the Movement of Business Persons has also been finalised, and will be ready for use once it undergoes legal scrubbing.
“This latest ratification moves the Tripartite process one step closer to the implementation stage, and it is likely to present more scope for early harvest and by extension, prospects for fast-tracking the continental integration agenda,” Mangeni concluded.