26 African countries sign free trade agreement

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South African president Jacob Zuma

 

African heads of state from 26 countries   have signed a major African free trade deal at the Tripartite summit in the Egyptian Red Sea city of Sharm el Sheikh.

The agreement aims to create a common market block spanning half the continent.

The deal integrates three existing trade blocs whose countries have a combined Gross Domestic Product of more than $1 trillion (885 billion euros) and eases the movement of goods in an area home to 625 million people.

The pact on the Tripartite Free Trade Area was signed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia and Mohamed Bilal, vice president of Tanzania, at a summit in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

 

The Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) will cap five years of negotiations to set up a common framework for preferential tariffs that will ease the movement of goods across member countries.

The blocs represent  52% of the african population and constitute more than 60% of GDP in the africa continent.

The heads of state will enter closed meetings today to negotiate over the final sticking points of the agreement.

A number of smaller nations are concerned freeing up markets could damage local economies. However despite some reservations, it is expected the deal will be signed off today.

The deal will pool the interests of the East African Community, 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 (885 billion euros).

Members of the three blocs range from relatively developed economies such as South Africa and Egypt to countries like Angola, Ethiopia and Mozambique, which are seen as having huge growth potential.

Negotiators said the agreement has addressed concerns such as management of trade disputes and protection for small manufacturers once the TFTA comes into force.

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