African leaders recently agreed to take the first steps toward integrating three existing African trade blocs, which would create a 26-member trade group stretching from Egypt to South Africa. In an email interview, Peter Draper, a senior research fellow at the South African Institute of International Affairs, discussed the proposed Grand Free Trade Area.
WPR: What is the driving force behind combining Africa's regional trade blocs into a broader African free trade bloc?
Peter Draper: There is no single driving force; rather, at least three separate motivations can be identified. At the level of high politics, the ideal of creating a single African Economic Community, as part of the broader goal of African unity, provides the glue. Within Southern and Eastern Africa, a more specific driver is the problem of countries belonging to two or more regional groupings and the consequent need to rationalize the groupings. For example, Swaziland is a member of the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). A third consideration, which plays out differently in different countries, is the desire to free up trade in the interests of greater economic integration, faster economic growth and development.