TWO of the largest regional trade accords in history were agreed on last year. The Trans-Pacific Partnership involves 12 countries in Asia and the Americas, and was the subject of headlines and heated debate. But most people have never heard of the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA), which covers 26 African countries. It will create the biggest free-trade area on the continent, “from Cairo to the Cape”, as its supporters boast.
Many in the developing world see global trade as rigged in favour of rich countries. But African regional integration is all the rage. The continent features 17 trade blocs. The TFTA aims to join up three of them: the East African Community (EAC), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). At a conference on African business on February 20th-21st in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, several leaders called for a united African market.
An abundance of borders has long divided the continent’s 54 countries, limiting economies of scale. Fixing common problems such as a shortage of roads takes teamwork—and in turn should lead to more integration. Average transport costs in Africa are twice the world average and are thought to harm trade on the continent more than tariffs and other barriers.
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