Commonly referred to as the Tripartite FTA (T-FTA), the free trade area is meant to allow the duty-free, quota-free flow of goods and services, as well as the free movement of businesspeople between the countries in three regional blocs namely, Sadc, Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa) and East African Community(EAC.)
Regional Integration and International Co-operation minister Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga told Standardbusiness that the summit would also focus on expediting the setting up of a customs union.
Misihairabwi-Mushonga said emphasis was being placed on the creation of the T-FTA as it is intended to act as a catalyst for increased regional integration with commensurate market access, infrastructure and industrial development for member countries.
“It is entirely up to us as Zimbabweans to market ourselves as we have the potential to be a regional hub in the fields of information communication technology (ICT) and logistics,” she said.
The minister noted that Zimbabwe was a geographically located gateway, through which neighbouring countries depend on for regional business transactions.
She said one of the biggest hydro-energy power projects in Southern Africa is currently being negotiated between Zimbabwe and Zambia, a development which could transform the country’s fortunes once it comes to fruition.
Trade analysts have previously warned that the economic structural disparities existing among the T-FTA’s participating members may serve to deter the integration process, but the minister believes otherwise.
“Industrial development of each and every member state is a pillar of the new approach to integration. Zimbabwe’s business community needs to view the integration effort in a positive way as local industry stands to benefit from this pledge made by all participating states,” she said.
Misihairabwi-Mushonga added: “We will encourage the opening up of markets, but not on a wholesale basis as there is need for an analysis of each respective country’s economic development stage.”
The 2011 Africa Competitiveness Report notes that African countries have much to gain by diversifying exports and by further opening up regional trade.
However, Zimbabwe and other T-FTA states’ reliance on revenue inflows from excise duties and other indirect taxes accruing from levies charged on imports may prove to be a sticking point in the ultimate creation of the trade area.
Taku Fundira, a researcher with the South African-based Trade Law Centre for Southern Africa (Tralac), in a discussion paper, argues that there is need for strong linkages in the supply chain between the various countries.
It is also anticipated that the T-FTA will allow the region to benefit substantially from global trade flows, and attract greater investment and large-scale production.
The summit is also expected to deal with policy issues, assessing how trade and investment policies could be co-ordinated in the bigger regional bloc as well as issues to do with regulation, migration and competition policies.