Southern African countries launch free trade zone

JOHANNESBURG, August 17, 2008 (AFP) – Southern African countries launched a regional trade zone at a summit on Sunday that aims to eliminate import tariffs, with plans for a common currency by 2018.

Eleven of the 14 countries that are part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will participate in the free trade area, including Zimbabwe, which has the world’s highest inflation rate officially put at 2.2 million percent.

South Africa, the continent’s economic powerhouse, is also among the countries that are part of the free trade zone.

Three SADC countries — Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi — plan to join at a later date due to weak economies.

Angola, which rivals Nigeria as Africa’s largest oil producer, continues to recover from a 27-year civil war that ended in 2002.

“While 85 percent of all intra-SADC trade is duty-free in 2008, we must acknowledge that the work is not yet complete,” South African President Thabo Mbeki said at the launch.

“The remaining 15 percent of trade is still to be liberalised by 2012 and we need to ensure that all members are able jointly to meet that milestone.”

Parts of the free trade zone were put in