Malawi President Peter Mutharika joined African leaders on Wednesday to sign a 26-nation free trade pact to create a common market that would span half the continent from Cairo to Cape Town.
The pact – known as The Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) – which must still be fine-tuned and ratified, caps five years of talks to set up a framework for preferential tariffs to ease the movement of goods in an area home to 625 million people.
Mutharika signed the trade deal and attended the launch in in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan were among those who signed the pact at a summit.
The deal will integrate three existing trade blocs — the East African Community, the Southern African Development Community and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) — whose countries have a combined gross domestic product of more than $1 trillion .
According to Malawi Minister of Trade and Industry Joseph Mwanamveka though Malawi has signed the trade deal, it would implement the TFTA when it has addressed some issues such as tariffs.
Chairperson of the COMESA-SADC-EAC Tripartite Free Trade area Task force Sindiso Ngwenya called on countries who have signed the trade agreement to ensure that they implement the accord and not just sign on paper.
“Some member states have not completely liberalized free movement of business persons, this would require governmments commitment otherwise this would make the tripartite region, a region with thick borders,” he added.
The TFTA has been widely welcomed by world business leaders, with experts pointing out that only 12 percent of Africa’s trade is between countries on the continent.
Chairperson of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Summit Ethiopian Prime Minister Ato Hailemariam Desalegn said for the TFTA to be efficient there is need for peace and security in the region.
“Political unrest, civil wars, terrorism are a detrimental element to achieving a successful meaningful and conducive environment for investment,” he said.
He also said the elimination of trade barriers would boost productivity capacity of industries in the region.
Earlier in the day, President Arthur Peter Mutharika held bilateral talks in camera with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sis.
Minister of Trade and Industry Mwanamvekha said the two presidents discussed trade, investment between the two countries and the technical community colleges training in Malawi
The President also met Dr Mukhisa Kituyi the Secretary General of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to discuss financial and trade issues in Malawi.—Additional reporting by Nyasa TimesFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :