Article written

  • on 12.06.2015
  • at 12:16 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Q&A: The AU Trade Commissioner on the New Cape-to-Cairo Common Market 0

For once, the African Union Summit is going to have something to show for all its talk of regional integration. The Tripartite Free Trade Area, signed in Egypt on Wednesday, creates a common market across 26 countries, and has the potential to revolutionise trade on the continent. Simon Allison spoke to the AU trade commissioner about why the deal is so important – and why the rest of Africa will have to catch up quickly.

While most of Africa’s political elite were arriving in Johannesburg for the 25th African Union Summit, another continental gathering – one likely to have more visible and more immediate consequences – was happening in the sunny seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

It is here that the leaders of three Africa trade blocs – the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community (EAC), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) – put pen to paper on an agreement that could revolutionise trade in Africa.

The agreement joins the three blocs to create the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA), effectively creating a common market that encompasses 26 African countries and 625 million Africans. “Africa has made it clear that it is open for business,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim about the new deal.

African Union trade commissioner Fatima Haram Acyl was even more effusive in her praise when the Daily Maverick caught up with her on the sidelines of the 25th African Union Summit in Johannesburg – although she was quick to point out that the TFTA is only halfway towards the continental body’s even more ambitious goal: the creation of a Continental Free Trade Area.

Daily Maverick: The Tripartite Free Trade Area sounds like a good idea. What’s your reaction?

Fatima Haram Acyl: I’m very happy to hear that finally we are signing it. We’re very excited. It is 26 countries in Africa, so it’s big news. It’s also perfect timing. We’re going to be launching the negotiations on the Continental Free Trade Area at the AU Summit on the 15th. For some of the people that are asking is the Continental Free Trade Area ambitious, is it doable by the 2017 deadline, I’m saying the Tripartite is happening, the signatures are done. So it’s doable.

Do you really think that 2017 deadline is realistic?

As long as you have the will it’s possible. If we know the benefits of the Continental Free Trade Area, if we know what it means for us, if we look around us, around the world and we see this mega trade going on, and where is Africa? We’re going to be left behind… [but] if we know all the importance of this Continental Free Trade Area to our Agenda 2063 [the AU’s long-term development plan], we will prevail. It will be difficult negotiations, it will require sacrifices and a lot of disagreements, but I think we will prevail. One of the thing we need to think about seriously, especially at the beginning, is a compensation mechanism to alleviate the fear of countries that are fearing they’re going to lose too much. The other positive news is that not everybody has to be ready at the same time. The ones that are ready, they can just move. We know everybody is willing but we’re not at the same stage. Later on the others can join. Based on all these parameters I think that 2017 is doable.

Continue reading on the Daily Maverick

by Simon Allison 

Photo Credit: Mark Eddo

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