Continental Free Trade Area to be launched by end of year

African presidents are determined to launch the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) before end of 2017.

At their last summit this July, the African presidents reiterated their determination to launch the CFTA and directed negotiations to be completed this year.

Director of Trade, Customs and Monetary Affairs at the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Dr. Francis Mangeni said good strategies in the provisions of the African Regional Economic Communities (RECs) will be used to construct CFTA.

Another round of negotiation meeting is to be held in Durban South Africa on 21st of August to look at the progress and according to Dr. Mangeni, modalities for negotiating goods and services have been agreed and adopted, and a draft text for the CFTA Agreement produced.

The Director said CFTA must have an Agreement covering the essential elements, namely, establishment, principles and objectives, non-discrimination, tariff elimination, customs and trade facilitation, standards, transparency and notification, institutions, disputes, and the usual final provisions.

Details of trade remedies for instance can be put into a built-in agenda for continuing work and a provision-by-provision comparison in a matrix would assist, to graphically demonstrate that the essence is the same, clear and convincing in the process of producing, the draft text for the CFTA Agreement, he said.

Dr. Mangeni said there were areas of difference among the RECs such as settlement of trade disputes. He added that a simple provision for consultations and binding arbitration can start off the Agreement, but with a built-in agenda for elaborating a comprehensive trade-dedicated court or panel process that is suitable for Africa and avoid the pitfalls of the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement system.

He noted that the best practices from the RECs demonstrate that an easy digital system for addressing non-tariff barriers can be handy and appropriate for trade disputes. .

The CFTA could build on the tripartite online system and operationalize a continent-wide digital system, to start off with. And in the meantime, the African Union Trade Ministers’ meetings can regularly look into any matters requiring attention, Dr. Mangeni said.

He therefore added that it is feasible to have CFTA rules of origin by December 2017 if the negotiations take the approach of across-the-board thresholds or general rules for conferring origin.

In COMESA, EAC, West Africa and Central Africa, for instance, goods will qualify for CFTA treatment if value inputs from within the region hits a set percentage of the total value of the good.

Dr. Mangeni said the CFTA will require every African country to eliminate customs duties on at least 90 percent of its total products lines. On the 10 percent, every country may designate some as sensitive, meaning that customs duties can only be reduced and over a longer period of time; and may designate others as excluded products, on which no tariff reductions are expected, he said.

The CFTA is part of Africa’s plan to industrialize the continent by 2063 and boost intra Africa trade which currently stands at 19 percent.

Source: Kenya News Agency