East Africa Free Trade Zone – The Key to Inter-Africa Air Cargo Development?

The world‘s air cargo tonnages and revenues continue under heavy pressure although the past two months have shown some form of stability.


Africa, especially the East African region, has been highlighted for some years as being one of the fastest upcoming markets. However, even this continent has had problems establishing itself.

That now seems to be changing somewhat for the better. Inter-Africa cargo connectivity can put East Africa more on the map.

Huge continent with emerging markets, but low degree of similarities in aviation policies.
Huge continent with emerging markets, but low degree of similarities in aviation policies.

The recent formation of the so called Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) which was the subject of much discussion at the last Air Cargo Africa conference, could well be a much needed tool to promote the inner-Africa air cargo development.

There is still a long way to go yet before all concerned can get their act together and start promoting a serious African air cargo connectivity programme.

Details given at the IATA Africa-Middle East Aviation day in late June show positive development chances for the region.

The aim is to increase the air cargo movements with an annual 5 percent increase over the coming years.

Easier said than done! - this was also the aim some years ago, but it failed due to the lack of infrastructure in the region as well as individual commitments from member states and airlines.

Is this going to change?
It seems so, as the TFTA agreement which was formed to merge the East African and Southern African trade communities was further boosted by adding further countries and bringing the total up to twenty-six nations ranging from Angola to Zimbabwe.
The agreement basically rests on a free trade flow between countries, transparent tariffs and of course a much needed new investment in the infrastructure as a whole.

Where do airlines come into the game?
Basically by now really striving to set up practical and profitable inner African services which are a combination of in and out feeder services for long haul air cargo movements on the continent and also promotion of quick and efficient African regional cargo schedules.
In this respect there has been quite some movement this year with the start aup of new African cargo regionals.

New cargo hubs on the horizon
Chinese carriers are becoming (once again) more committed to the African region and maybe it won‘t be too long before increased all freighter services target Nairobi, Addis, Johannesburg and so on.
Middle East carriers have been busy there for some time and now. Etihad Airways gave the region a further boost by adding an Abu-Dhabi to Brazzaville B777F operation. Brazzaville is being seen by the Etihad managers as an upcoming economic hub in Central Africa.
Ethiopian Airlines has done tremendous work in establishing Addis Ababa as the East African cargo hub.
Johannesburg in the south is another one as is Nairobi and if the Republic of Congo proves to be a good fourth, then surely the road is open for a better and profitable inter-African  air cargo network which can bring future employment and productivity to the region.

Diverging interests
The door is open, but don’t let’s fool ourselves or be too optimistic yet.
There are various nations and interests at work here and the secret will be to tie them all in together to ensure this vast continent can show itself as a reliable and profitable air cargo player.
The TFTA members may be well advised to look more closely at serious opportunities within their member states for funding an infrastructure which can be geared better to the air cargo handling, development and inter African transport.

John Mc Donagh

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