By T’soloane mohlomi

MASERU – The Minister of Trade, Industry, Business Development and Tourism Hon. Mokhethi Shelile recently signed the Tripartite Free Trade Area Agreement (TFTA) hosted at Avani Lesotho, in Maseru.

Acting on behalf of the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho the signing of the agreement shows Lesotho’s willingness to partake in Free Trade between the two regions of Southern Africa and East Africa under the supervision of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and East African Community (EAC).

The third stakeholder in this agreement is the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) which is an organisation of free independent sovereign states which have an existing agreement to co-operate for the development of their natural and human resources for the good of all their people, this mainly through the stimulation and growth of their regional economies in the concerned regions.

The overall objective of the Tripartite is to contribute to the broader objective of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) for accelerating economic integration of the two regions to achieve sustainable economic development leading to poverty alleviation and improvement in the quality of life for the people of the Eastern and Southern African Region.

The TFTA is an umbrella organisation consisting of twenty-six Member States of the three Africa’s Regional Economic Communities; COMESA, EAC and SADC.

Speaking during the signing ceremony the Minister of Trade, Industry, Business Development and Tourism, Hon. Mokhethi Shelile said the agreement was a significant milestone for Lesotho and the entire Southern African region as a whole because it opens up new opportunities for businesses and would help diversify the mountain Kingdoms economy.

“We are indeed committed to taking full advantage of this for the benefit of the greater citizenry”, he said.

Hon. Shelile continued and articulated that  Lesotho’s decision to join this regional pact was expected to stimulate the country’s economy and trade while reducing trade barriers and promoting the development of infrastructure to foster economic growth and job creation.

He said the agreement would enhance regional value chains, attract investment and lead to broader economic development.

In her address, The Secretary General of COMESA, Mrs. Chelishe Mpundu Kapwepwe emphasized the importance of regional integration and trade liberalization.

“Today’s signing marks a historic step towards achieving a common market in Southern and East Africa. The COMESA region together with SADC and the EAC is moving towards greater economic prosperity and competitiveness,” she said.

The COMESA Secretary General said now all that was left was for the Minister to present the signed agreement before the Parliament for ratification. She underlined the significance of cooperation among African nations.

““Our unity and economic integration are pivotal in ensuring a brighter future for our people. The Tripartite Free Trade Agreement promotes inclusivity and we are excited about the potential it holds,” she explained.

The COMESA-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Agreement brings together 28 countries from COMESA, 16 from SADC, and 6 from the EAC thus creating a trading block of significant economic potential.

On his part, the President of the Lesotho Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr. Fako Hakane said the signing of the agreement was indeed a milestone, saying with the signing of the agreement they were hopeful that the transformation of Lesotho from a consumer-based economy shall be recognised.

He said the advantage of regional Economic Commerce is to create a larger market or economic space for the production and sale of goods and services they produce.

Moreover, he said the three pillars of TFTA; market integration, industrialisation and infrastructure are meant to support each other and be supported by the traversal themes such as resource mobilisation and movement of businesspersons.

The TFTA was launched in 2015 and brings together 29 countries to create a single market for the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite region. It is expected to enter into force once it attains ratifications by 14 Member /Partner States of the three regional economic communities.

Currently, 23 Tripartite Member/Partner States have signed the Agreement (Including Lesotho on this current signing) out of which 11 which include, Egypt, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda, Burundi, Botswana, Namibia, Eswatini, Zambia and Zimbabwe have ratified it. Only three more ratifications are required for the Agreement to enter into force.