At a recent AU heads of states summit African leaders decided TFTA to come into effect in 2017. At a recent AU heads of states summit African leaders decided TFTA to come into effect in 2017.

Africa’s ambitious but historic 2017 Free Trade Zone target

The Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) signed between 26 African nations in 2015 is the most significant and historic trade deal signed on the continent in decades.

The new and vast economic zone will link three trade blocs that would unite 57 percent of the continent’s population and allow free movement of goods and people with predictable positive effects on the African economy.

The initial agreement, signed in Egypt’s Red Sea resort—Sharm El-Sheik—in last month, aims to combine the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the South African Development Community (SADC), and the East African Community (EAC) to one trade region.

What member states agreed, in theory, requires practical implementation of the treaty as well as negotiations and ratifications by the respective national parliaments.

At a recent AU heads of states summit African leaders decided the agreement to come into effect in 2017. With less than two years left, some African countries might struggle to meet the given deadline target.

Given the current geo-political realities on the continent, it’s hard to see how such a short deadline could be met at the same time and by all member states.


The difference in size, economic strength, bilateral relation, political situation and stage of development amongst member states might represent a challenge to the 2017 goal, some experts say.

For instance, many African countries have poor relations between them and that says it all –  without the prerequisite of serious diplomatic and political relations it could take considerable time for some countries until border controls are abolished and visa requirements removed.

Although, Africa has now been in an excelled security platform compared to 1998 for instance, a year in which 32 countries, embracing to Ethiopia and Eritrea, were under war and warmongering, sporadic war tensions need to be minimized to its lowest level.

Africa’s border disputes have cast a millennia-long shadow on peace, progress and stability in the continent and therefore need to be addressed to make the border free economic zone work in all signatory countries.

Many trade experts believe that the future of free trade is largely in the hands of politicians. “Frankly, and I know it’s always controversial when you say it, but it actually takes political will to get this done. You cannot get the rules of the game harmonized without getting the people who make these rules around the table,” Barclays Africa chief executive Maria Ramos said in a recent interview.

The agreement is said to be “an important milestone for the economic future of the continent”, according to the World Bank Group. The trade zone will encompass more than 60% of Africa’s Gross Domestic Product which economically has been rated to circulate the value of $ 1.2 trillion.

To armor this positive initiative in the trading system of Africa, the pact known as the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) – has also been equipped with transforming discourses at summit of the African Union (AU) last month in South Africa.

Hence, the AU’s obligation to address political questions impacting the free trade zone and its role as a facilitator cannot be underestimated on the path to create a common market.

By Editorial Team

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