Towards an EAC, COMESA and SADC Free Trade Area: Issues and Challenges

The proposed free trade area (FTA) between the East African Community, Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa and the Southern African Development Community is a positive inter-regional initiative and serves as a building bloc to the envisaged African Economic Community. As building blocs, the three regional economic communities have initiated a process of coordination and harmonisation of integration programmes in the areas of trade, economic and infrastructure development.

The paper maps out the process (stages and status) of regional integration among the three RECs; developments in cooperation and harmonization of programmes among the RECs; the challenges that the RECs currently encounter and are likely to encounter in seeking to contribute to the realization of a single African REC. A comparative analysis of other regional trade arrangements (e.g. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Free Trade Area of the Americas) will be undertaken in order to discern key lessons for the envisaged trilateral FTA.We conclude by providing recommendations on emerging issues such as trade in services, investment, intellectual property rights, movement of people – which areas regional integration in Africa has not tackled and are seen as critical in enhancing regional economic integration.