SADC aims to facilitate trade by simplifying, harmonizing, standardizing and modernizing regional customs procedures. Trade liberalization focuses on the process of opening markets to international trade by reducing trade restrictions, including tariffs and non-tariff barriers to the import and export of goods. Since 2000, when the implementation of the SADC Trade Protocol began, intra-SADC trade has more than doubled, with intra-SADC trade increasing from about $13.2 billion in 2000 to about $34 billion in 2009, an increase of about 155 per cent. Of the 16 SADC member States, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Comoros have not yet acceded to the SADC Free Trade Agreement. As a result, these three countries do not offer tariff reductions under SADC. The SADC Trade Protocol (2005), as amended, provides for the establishment of a free trade area in the SADC region until 2008 and aims to further liberalize intraregional trade in goods and services; ensure efficient production; contribute to improving the climate for domestic, cross-border and foreign investment; and to promote the economic development, diversification and industrialization of the region. SADC is increasingly supporting free trade as part of its poverty eradication programme in Southern Africa. As part of its long-term regional integration objectives, SADC established a free trade area in 2008. In this area, Member States have abolished customs duties on trade, but have been able to impose their own external customs duties on imports from third countries.
In January 2008, 12 Member States signed free trade agreements that reduced tariffs to 85% of intra-regional imports. Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Seychelles have yet to join the free trade area. Non-participating Member States are currently assisted by the Secretariat for Accession. In 2008, the tripartite summit of heads of State and Government of SADC, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC) proposed a single free trade area comprising 26 countries, including almost half of Africa`s population — more than 500 million people. The agreement on the 2011 tripartite summit shows that all necessary preparatory work should be completed by 2012. In the future, SADC is building on the benefits of the free trade area in its next objective of creating a customs union that would add to the region`s internal free trade a common external right against third countries. .