• Review Africa’s linear approach to regional integration
• Evaluation of the trade facilitation agenda for Africa
• Consider trade facilitation in the context of the Tripartite Free Trade Area negotiations
African countries remain, at high political level, committed to regional integration. This makes sense for a fragmented continent, if the agenda addresses Africa’s real challenges.
Africa’s regional economic communities (RECs) follow the linear integration model, plotting progress from free trade area to customs union and, in some cases, to political union. The record of most RECs reflects significant implementation challenges. These with, for example, the parlous state of some regional courts, raise more fundamental concerns about rules-based governance.
These factors motivate for a paradigm change; reflecting a practical agenda that will address the real challenges of competitiveness, industrial development and diversification and a trade facilitation agenda that will enhance African countries’ capacity to trade effectively.
It is true however, that even recent regional integration initiatives are still wedded to the linear integration paradigm. The Tripartite Free Trade Area (T-FTA) that will bring together the member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East Africa Community (EAC) did initially look as if it could mark a watershed in African integration. However since negotiations were launched in June 2011 it has become evident that it could well be another REC in the traditional mould. But there could be an opportunity to address some practical challenges that African firms and traders face.
The T-FTA agenda, and specifically the draft legal instruments that were prepared by technical experts, include Annexes on customs management, non-tariff barriers and trade facilitation. This provides an opportunity to address practical issues that could enhance the competitiveness of the private sector and facilitate not only intra-regional trade, but also global trade integration. These are the issues that tralac’s session will focus on.