Addis Ababa, 18 June 2018 (ECA) - The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, Vera Songwe has lauded the representatives of the Tripartite group comprising COMESA, EAC and SADC for their work on synergies between the Tripartite Free Trade Area and the African Continental Free Trade Area – AfCFTA, signed this year by African Union Member States.
“The negotiated AfCFTA text, the ideas put on paper and signed by our heads of state in March germinated from the good work of the Tripartite negotiators”, she said, and added: “The shape and structure of the AfCFTA and many of its solutions, from Non-Tariff Barriers to trade remedies, were formed here in the Tripartite negotiations.”
In taking the synergies forward, she called on the tripartite bodies to work on pooling resources for efficiency gains stressing that where the tripartite has already seen successes, “these can be emulated on the continental scale.”
The Tripartite Non-Tariff Barrier Mechanism is a good example and as elaborated on by Ms. Songwe, over 510 registered complaints in the Tripartite region have been resolved. “This matters because businesses frequently indicate that such barriers are far more burdensome than tariffs.”
She also underscored that the AfCFTA “would gain valuably from the continental roll-out of the Tripartite Non-Tariff Barrier Mechanism, which is already envisaged within the AfCFTA Non-Tariff Barriers Annex”.
Additionally, noted Songwe, there may also be cases where what is agreed at the continental level can be applied within the Tripartite area, in this regard, she indicated that the upcoming phase II AfCFTA negotiations on competition, intellectual property and investment as well as “a well-resourced Secretariat to push the negotiations, provide technical inputs lobby at the political level, and lubricate what can be challenging negotiations” are examples of critical areas of focus.
“We at the ECA strongly advocate for a robust Tripartite Secretariat,” she stressed.
She informed the meeting that the Tripartite can serve as a valuable platform for aggregating and consolidating negotiating positions. “Rather than a negotiation of 55 parties, this helps rationalize the AfCFTA into one in which 26 members have consolidated positions,” said Songwe.
According to the ECA, this is already evident within the AfCFTA negotiations, however there is clear scope to take such efficiencies forwards. “In Rules of Origin, for instance, the Tripartite group might wish to bring to the continental platform, the hard work they have undertaken in identifying common rule positions and in doing so, help to expedite the pace of the AfCFTA work in this area,” she urged.
Ms Songwe stressed that when it comes to implementation “we must have in mind the type of synergies that seek our ultimate objective: that is, making the trading landscape in Africa simpler, more affordable and easier for our businesses, traders and consumers”
“We must therefore take considerable care that such initiatives as the Tripartite and the AfCFTA do not aggravate the infamous “spaghetti bowl” of overlapping REC trade areas and initiatives in Africa,” she said.
Underscoring that there are no easy answers she said that solutions may come in implementation, and in ensuring that the Secretariats and institutions of the Tripartite, the AfCFTA and the RECs are aligned to work closely. “Over the medium term, consolidating the trading regimes in Africa could involve harmonizing what has proven to work well in one context – such as the aforementioned Tripartite Non-Tariff Barrier Mechanism.”
“Working closely together means working well,” stressed Songwe, adding that as both the Tripartite and AfCFTA negotiations conclude and move towards implementation, the ECA “stands ready as a supportive partner with technical advisory services and capacity building, especially in areas with complementarities between the AfCFTA and the Tripartite.”
“It is our businesses, traders and consumers who trade goods across our borders to whom the Tripartite and AfCFTA should serve, “she noted, adding that ECA will “increasingly speak to this by deepening collaboration with the private sector in support of trade policies, among other policy areas.”
She also expressed commitment towards supporting the Tripartite Free Trade Agreement and the AfCFTA, including through technical support to member-states, technical research and the AfCFTA Business Index that the ECA’s African Trade Policy Center is currently developing as a monitoring tool to assess how well the AfCFTA is delivering on the expected gains.
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