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Negotiations for Africa free trade area to start by mid-year – Davies

Creamer Media’s Engineering News Online, South Africa

Negotiations for Africa free trade area to start by mid-year – Davies

By Jade Davenport

8 March 2011

Negotiations for a tripartite free trade area (FTA), which would include 26 East and Southern African member states, were expected to begin by mid-year, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said on Tuesday.

Addressing delegates attending an African economic conference in Cape Town, Davies said that discussions on the FTA would be launched at a Tripartite Council and Summit, which would be hosted by South Africa during the middle of the year.

It was anticipated that initial negotiations would focus on a trading goods agreement.

Davies said that South Africa had met with other Southern African Development Community states earlier this year, to prepare its approach towards the FTA negotiations.

“I believe that we have a very strong common mind about how we need to go about constructing this free trade area,” said Davies, adding that South Africa would take a very pragmatic approach to the negotiations.

He stated that the establishment of a FTA was a priority project for the South African government because, while the country had strong trading and investment ties with most African countries, it wanted to further enhance this relationship.

“Our growth path is telling us that we need to become much more deeply involved in African trade.”

It was also believed that there was significant potential to grow intra-regional trade. Currently, only 12% of African trade was intra-regional and there was potential to grow this significantly.

The proposed free trade area would consist of 26 countries located within SADC, the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for East African States (Comesa) regional economic communities.

The FTA would incorporate much of Southern and Eastern Africa and would, quite literally span from Cape to Cairo, said Davies.

This was a significant and sizeable market with a gross domestic product of $624-billion and a combined population of between 500-milion and 700-million people.