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The first round of negotiations to establish a free trade area covering 27 countries in southern and east Africa will kick off on December 8, in Nairobi. It is envisaged that the negotiations will be completed in 36 months. (Really?)

The three trade blocs involved – the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) – decided in October 2008 in Kampala to move towards a free trade agreement.

The intention is to boost intra-regional trade because the market will be much bigger, there will be more investment flows, enhanced competitiveness and the development of cross-regional infrastructure.

Industrialisation, making goods to sell instead of selling primary products, is a possible and also necessary spin-off. Competition with older established and also bigger emerging economies might be a stumbling block initially, but the huge new market may make it possible for locally manufactured goods to compete with those imported from outside the FTA.

Close to 600 million people live in the FTA with a gross domestic product of $1 trillion – suddenly we are boxing in the same weight division as China, India, Russia, Brazil, the US and the EU. Source: All Africa.com.

BriberyComment: Heard all of this before?  It could be hoped that some positive developments will materialise from more talkshops with promises to alleviate poverty and increase Africa’s slice of the international market. While the retail and telecommunications industries have made significant inroads into Africa, manufacturing remains a moot point. Does Africa have the political will to take risks? Removing internal border controls for instance are not high priority for sovereign governments. Neither for that matter is the question of the integrity of officials who man these borders. And, neither is the matter of removing one of the key contributors to cross border fraud – the “paper customs declaration”. Nonetheless, attempts are still being made to redress these ills. Recent developments within SACU indicate a genuine move towards customs-2-customs information exchange based on the ‘Customs Inter-connectivity’ concept. More on this shortly.