PRETORIA — The 26 African countries that have opened negotiations for the continent's largest free trade zone have given themselves three years to begin launching it, South Africa's trade minister said Monday.
"We committed to having two phases of negotiations," Minister Rob Davies told a media briefing.
"The first of these involves getting agreement on trade in goods and the removal of tariff barriers. This process will involve the participation of the business community," he said.
"The time-frame for this is three years."
He said the second phase, for which he did not give a time-frame, would focus on trade in services and intellectual property.
African leaders agreed Sunday to launch negotiations on creating a free trade zone that would integrate three overlapping trade pacts: the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The bloc would combine 26 countries with a combined economy estimated at $875 billion (597 billion euros), aiming to enhance Africa's connectivity and reduce costs of doing business while increasing investment flows to address capacity constraints.
Davies said membership in the new bloc would not mean changing existing agreements.
"That is the difference between a free trade zone, which does not obligate one to renegotiate existing trade agreements, and a customs union, that does," he said.
He also said it was "wildly premature" to talk about a common currency for Africa.
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