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Tuesday, 31 October, 2000, 13:02 GMT
African free trade area launched

Africa's first Free Trade Area (FTA) has been inaugurated in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.

Nine nations belonging to the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa zone, from Egypt in the north to Zimbabwe in the south, have joined hoping that the FTA will bring greater prosperity through increased trade and employment.

But at the launch, Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, heavily criticised African nations for delaying integrating their economies more rapidly.

He accused countries of not working together but rather seeking to undermine each other.

The 11 other countries who are members of Comesa have expressed reservations about the FTA and analysts question its future in the absence of economically viable states such as South Africa.

The nine states forming the FTA are Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Five further countries - Burundi, Eritrea, Rwanda, the Comoros and Uganda - have indicated they might joint the FTA next year.

Disputed benefits

Comesa sees the creation of the Free Trade Area as the first step towards full regional integration and the adoption of a common currency by the year 2025.

Some experts have criticised the implementation of the FTA saying it has been too hasty.

Tanzania's capital, Dar es Salaam
Tanzania pulled out of Comesa before the FTA could be implemented
In September, Tanzania pulled out of Comesa altogether saying it was not ready for the FTA.

Local industry was considered too weak to compete in a fully free-trade environment.

It also seems possible the move was the result of the attraction of a rival economic grouping, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which includes South Africa among its membership.

SADC does not aim to have a completely tariff-free regime in place until 2012 at which point Tanzania is expected to be in a much more competitive position.

A Comesa secretariat official told the French news agency South Africa was trying to "play it big" by influencing Comesa members to leave and concentrate on SADC.

An official added that Angola was also considering pulling out of Comesa.

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See also:

04 Sep 00 | Africa
Tanzania delays free trade move
09 Aug 00 | Africa
United States of Southern Africa?
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