By Taonga Sabola:
The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) has asked member countries to ratify the tripartite free trade area (TFTA) as the deadline set by the Tripartite Council of Ministers lapses this month.
The development comes at a time Malawi is yet to sign and ratify the TFTA as it continues to consult on the matter.
Industry, Trade and Tourism Minister, Francis Kasaila, said in an interview Thursday that it was crucial for Malawi to have thorough consultations on the matter before ratifying the agreement.
“We are still consulting and we will only ratify when we conclude the consultations,” Kasaila said.
In a statement on Wednesday, Comesa said so far only four countries in Comesa, East Africa Community and Southern Africa Development Community tripartite bloc have signed and ratified the agreement. These are Kenya, Egypt, South Africa and Uganda.
A total of 22 out of 26 countries in the tripartite bloc comprising Comesa, East Africa Community and Southern Africa Development Community have signed the agreement.
TFTA agreement requires 14 ratifications to enter into force.
The deadline of April 2019 was set in June last during the ministerial meeting in Cape Town, South Africa.
Delegates attending the seventh extraordinary meeting of the Comesa Intergovernmental Committee that opened in Lusaka on Wednesday, were informed that eight of the 19 countries that had ratified the Africa Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) were Tripartite Member/ Partner States.
The AfCFTA attained the requisite ratifications on Monday this week when The Gambia signed, bringing the number of ratification to 22 which is the threshold for the agreement to enter into force.
Zambia’s Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry, Christopher Yaluma, who opened the meeting, said it was time for the remaining countries to sign the tripartite given that is was supposed to the building bloc to the continental FTA.
“I cannot overemphasise the absolute importance of all of us ratifying the Tripartite Agreement so that it enters into force immediately.
“After years of negotiation, the Tripartite FTA is ready for implementation. It is very much a low hanging fruit,” Yaluma said.
According to Comesa, currently, 93 percent of the work on Rules of Origin has been completed, providing the basis for trade to begin. In addition, the legal texts have been concluded and adopted.
Yaluma noted that most of the member/ partners states of the tripartite were already using the existing Comesa or Sadc free trade area agreements meaning they were ready.