Africa recently took what many hoped will be a giant leap towards better regional integration among countries across the continent. Leaders from 26 African countries meeting in the Egyptian seaside town of Sharm el Sheik on 10 June signed an agreement to create the continent’s largest free-trade zone, covering 26 countries in an area from Cape Town to Cairo.
The Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) unites three existing trade blocs – the Southern African Development Community (SADC), East African Community (EAC) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) – into a single new zone. Once ratified and implemented, the TFTA will help facilitate the free movement of goods across an area comprising more than 625 million people and a combined gross domestic product of more than US$1 trillion.
While a continent-wide free trade bloc is still some way off, the TFTA is an important step forward for Africa. Across the region only 12% of trade is among African countries. Latin America, too is lagging behind, with only 21% of all trade being intra-regional compared to 50% in Asia and 70% in Europe.
On the following pages we will examine why regional integration matters – for all regions – and especially the role trade plays in this process. However, more and better trade is not the only public good that comes with regional integration: it is closely followed by peace, security and prosperity.