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African nations sign agreement on grand trade area

Updated: 2015-06-11 09:00

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt - Some 25 African nations signed an agreement on Wednesday to form the largest free trade area (FTA) on the black continent, integrating the three existing economic zones, Egyptian state-run MENA news agency reported.

The deal was inked at a summit on Wednesday in Egypt's Sharm El-Sheikh Red Sea resort city.

The Tripartite FTA encompasses 25 member states from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), covering a combined population of 625 million people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of $1.2 trillion.

It will account for half the membership of the African Union and 58 percent of the continent's GDP.

Egypt's final endorsement of the agreement is pending until a new parliament is elected, as the North African country has been without a parliament since a court ruling dissolved the parliament that was elected in 2011, citing that the law regulating the election process was unconstitutional.

All legislative power is in the hands of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi until an elected parliament convenes.

During his speech to the summit, Sisi stressed that the COMESA- EAC-SADC Tripartite Summit is a turning point in the history of the African economic integration.

Sisi expressed Egypt's keenness on boosting all initiatives of the African Union as well as regional projects aiming at developing the infrastructure on the African continent and creating a road network.

These initiatives and projects come as part of Africa infrastructure program aiming at achieving inter-African cooperation to address deteriorating infrastructure in energy, communications, transportation and water resources management, Sisi said.

The Tripartite FTA, popularly known as the Grand Free Trade Area, will be the largest economic bloc on the continent and the launching pad for the establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) in 2017.

The launching of the Tripartite Free Trade Area is the first phase of implementing a regional developmental integration strategy that places high priority on infrastructure development, industrialization and free movement of business personnel.

The Tripartite FTA offers opportunities for business and investment and will act as a magnet for attracting foreign direct investment into the region.

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