African heads of state, joined by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, sixth from left in front row, and United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon, third from right in front row, pose for a group photograph at the annual African Union (AU) summit held at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Friday, Jan. 30, 2015 (Photo: AP)
Africa's three major regional economic committees (RECs) are set to finalise an agreement on forming the continent's largest free trade area (FTA) during a tripartite summit taking place 7-10 June in Egypt's Sharm El-Sheikh.
The tripartite grouping, which accounts for 51 percent of Africa's $2.3 trillion GDP, will sign a deal Wednesday to create free trade zones for goods immediately, with the hope of introducing services and intra-continent investor opportunities at a later stage.
Intra-trade within the tripartite area increased threefold to $102.6 billion in the 10 years leading to 2014.
The deal would bring together the 26 countries that are members of the three RECs, COMESA-EAC-SADC, giving Egypt free trade access to seven new African nations.
The tripartite grouping includes African nations such as South Africa, Rwanda, Zambia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Egypt and Zimbabwe.
"The agreement will bolster Egypt's status internationally and stragically," Ministry of Industry and Foreign Trade Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour told the state-run Al-Ahram daily Saturday.
Egypt expects to see its exports to African countries rise by 100 percent in three years to $5 billion compared to $2.7 billion in 2013, a growth rate of 33 percent annually.
Abdel-Nour added that Egypt has agreed with the African Development Bank to provide credit facilities worth $500 million to Egyptian exporters to support Cairo's trade deals with Africa,
The industrial aspect of the agreement would also allow Egyptian businesses to invest in these countries, with many African nations in need of comprehensive industrial development, Fakhry added.
The Egyptian goods expected to feature in the country's exports to African markets as a result of this agreement include engineering products, textiles, chemicals. furniture, and agricultural produce.
The anticipated Sharm treaty is the culmination of four years of negotiations among member states of the tripartite, which ended in a tentative consensual agreement reached in Burundi in October 2014.
Fakhry believes that the Sharm deal could be a first step towards forming an all-Africa free trade area by 2017, which is currently under negotiation.
Thirteen heads of African states and other African delegates are expected to sign the deal in Sharm El-Sheikh Sunday.
Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is expected to attend the summit, as well as Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe.
The summit will also be attended by heads of international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and World Bank.