Sharm el Sheikh (Egypt) (AFP) - Senior African officials negotiating a trade deal in Egypt to create a common market across half the continent said Monday the pact was ready to be signed.
The Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) spanning 26 countries is to be launched at a summit of heads of state and government on Wednesday in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.
The pact aims to set up a common framework for tariff preferences that would ease the movement of goods across the area's member countries.
The deal between the East African Community, Southern African Development Community and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa would create a market with a population of 625 million and gross domestic product of more than $1 trillion (900 billion euros).
"The deal is complete and ready to be signed by heads of state on Wednesday," Peter Kiguta, the director general of the East African Community, told AFP.
Trade ministers and officials gathered in the resort town from Sunday had worked out final concerns, including the management of disputes and protection for small manufacturers, he said.
"All issues have been sorted out. Some technicalities remain but the overall agreement is now complete," Kiguta said.
Egypt's Industry and Trade Minister Mounir Fakhri Abdel Nour said the agreement would be a "monumental step" for the continent.
"It will bring together a united Africa," he told delegates. "On top of that it will promote production and add value to our resources."
The deal would still need to be ratified by national parliaments, and these approvals would be taken within two years.
"But that effort is simpler compared to the effort that has gone in to preparing the document," he said..
"The deal is a big step towards achieving the continent's dream... it will help in strengthening our bargaining power, create jobs and raise standards of production."
Officials said that once the TFTA was successfully implemented it would eventually merge the three economic blocs, but bilateral agreements between countries would continue.
The TFTA has been widely welcomed by world business leaders, with experts pointing out that only 12 percent of trade on the continent is between African countries.
The members of the three economic blocs range from relatively developed economies such as South Africa and Egypt to countries like Angola, Ethiopia and Mozambique, which are seen as having huge growth potential.
The trade between the three blocs has, however, grown more than three-fold over the past decade to $102.6 billion in 2014, officials say.
The TFTA provides a mechanism for the identification, reporting, monitoring and elimination of non-tariff barriers, officials said.
The agreement also aims to raise Africa's share of global trade -- currently at about two percent -- for which the agreement focuses on development of industries across the 26 member countries.