The deadline set by the Tripartite Council of Ministers for member States of three regional economic blocs to sign and ratify the tripartite free trade area lapses this month.
So far only four countries in COMESA, East Africa Community and Southern Africa Development Community tripartite bloc have signed and ratified the agreement. These are Kenya, Egypt, South Africa and Uganda.
A total of 22 out of 26 countries in the tripartite bloc comprising COMESA, East Africa Community (EAC) and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) have signed the agreement. The deadline of April 2019 was set in June last year during the ministerial meeting in Cape Town, South Africa.
Delegates attending the seventh Extraordinary meeting of the COMESA Intergovernmental Committee that opened in Lusaka this week were informed that eight of the 19 countries that had ratified the Africa Continent Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) were Tripartite Member/Partner States.
The AfCFTA attained the requisite ratifications on Monday this week when The Gambia signed, bringing the number of ratification to 22 which is the threshold for the agreement to enter into force.
Zambia’s Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Christopher Yaluma who opened the meeting said it was time for the remaining countries to sign the tripartite given that it is supposed to build the bloc to the continental FTA.
“I cannot overemphasize the absolute importance of all of us ratifying the Tripartite Agreement so that it enters into force immediately, “he said.
“After years of negotiation, the Tripartite FTA is ready for implementation. It is very much a low hanging fruit.”
Currently, 93% of the work on Rules of Origin has been completed, providing the basis for trade to begin. In addition, legal texts have been concluded and adopted.
The minister noted that most of the member/partners states of the tripartite were already using the existing COMESA or SADC free trade area agreements meaning they were ready.
He called on the Member States to the ratify the agreement within the period remaining before the tripartite ministers’ deadline.
The extraordinary IC meeting was convened to deal mainly with pressing administration and financial management issues while at the same time receive updates on regional integration programme matters.
It was attended by Permanent/Principal Secretariats from the ministries that coordinate COMESA activities in the Member States whose recommendations will be tabled before the Extraordinary Council of Ministers meeting on Friday this week.
In her statement, COMESA Secretary General Chileshe Kapwepwe said, since she assumed office last year, she has identified areas for immediate change at COMESA Secretariat aimed at strengthening service delivery to stakeholders.
“The need to have fast and better responsiveness to the needs of Member States, addressing inadequate resourcing through the development of a strategic resource mobilization plan, addressing the organizational structure of the Secretariat for enhanced performance,” she said.
“My goal is to shift the focus of COMESA Policy Organs engagement from administrative to programme implementation issues. It is only through programme implementation that we shall be able to create jobs and improve the standard of living and quality of life of our people.”
The IC observed a moment of silence for one of their departed member, Ambassador Julius Onen, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade in Uganda who passed away last month as well as the victims of the fatal Ethiopian Airlines Flight and to those who died after Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique and parts of Malawi and Zimbabwe.