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EAC, Comesa, SADC free trade area in the offing

11 July 2010, World Countries

By Patrick Githinji

It is barely a week since the start of the East Africa Community (EAC) Common Market Protocol, and plans for the launch of a grand Free Trade Area (FTA) between the COMESA, EAC and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) economic blocs are in high gear.

In an interview with The Standard, EAC Deputy Secretary General, Alloys Mutabingwa, said the economic blocs were discussing the FTA, which would encourage regional trade.

Mutabingwa, who was in Nairobi to address the East Africa business seminar organised by East Africa Business Council, said the FTA process began in 2008, after the Tripartite Summit held in Kampala.

The FTA framework would address regional concerns, including getting a common position of rules of origin, development of infrastructure, and creation of a working regime.

The envisaged tripartite economic bloc, would link countries from Egypt to South Africa, and would speed up the infrastructural system between the regions.

Already, infrastructural projects under the Tripartite arrangement are being developed to establish the EAC region as the hub, linking transport and communication networks with Northern and Southern African trade centres.

These projects include the East African Railways Master Plan and the East African Road Network Project, which aim to build and expand the comprehensive network of modern rail, roads, inland waterways and telecommunications systems.

“The integration will open a new era of multilateral cooperation between groups, since it will enable members to have wider relations in political, economic and trade sectors,” said EAC Permanent Secretary (PS) David Nalo.

Boost trade


Trade Minister, Amos Kimunya said the Tripartite has huge market potential, which would further boost regional trade.

“This huge market represents enormous opportunities for investments in tourism, infrastructure, information and communication technology, horticulture and financial services,” Kimunya said.

Once operationalised, it will be the largest FTA in the continent, bringing together 26 countries, and three existing regional economic blocs, with a population of half a billion people.

“It is a stepping stone for a continental union. And it will create a larger market, and reduce trade barriers between the three economic blocs. This will also create a large market for our products,” says Moses Ikiara, the Executive Director at KIPRA.

Ikiara says the cooperation offers Kenya an opportunity to compete with countries like South Africa and Egypt, considering the country is already the powerhouse in the region.

He, however, urged the Government to start harmonising the country’s tax systems, reduce the cost of credit, cut the cost of energy, and enhance economy so as to increase trade volume and become even more competitive.

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