The Southern African Development Community (CDAA) Trade Protocol (1996), as amended in 2010, is one of the main legal instruments that guide the CDAA`s trade work. This is an agreement between CDAA member states to reduce tariffs and other barriers to trade in imported goods between CDAA member states. The protocol provided for the creation of a free trade area in the region. The Regional Strategic Development Plan aimed to implement the CDAA Free Trade Area by 2008 and a customs union by 2010. On 10 June 2016, the EU signed an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the CDAA-EPA Group of Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). Angola has the opportunity to join the agreement in the future. The EPA provides asymmetric access to the partners of the APE CDAA group. They can protect sensitive products from full liberalisation and safeguards can be taken if imports from the EU increase too rapidly. A detailed chapter on development identifies areas of trade that can benefit from financing.

The agreement also contains a chapter on sustainable development that covers social and environmental issues. Improved merchandise trade opportunities: The EPA guarantees access to the EU market without tariffs or quotas for Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini. South Africa enjoys new market access under the EU-South Africa Trade, Development and Cooperation Agreement (TDCA), which currently governs trade relations with the EU until October 2016 (when the EPA came into force on an interim basis, which lifted the trade component of the TDCA). The new access includes better trading conditions, particularly in agriculture and fishing, including wine, sugar, fish products, flowers and fruit preserves. The EU will benefit from new valid access to the southern African customs union (whose products include wheat, barley, cheese, meat products and butter) and will have the security of a bilateral agreement with Mozambique, one of the region`s LDCs. The agreement was the first regional EPA in Africa to be fully operational after Mozambique began implementing the EPA in February 2018. A protocol is a legally binding document that obliges Member States to respect the specific objectives and procedures it contains. In order for a protocol to enter into force, two-thirds of the Member States must ratify or sign the agreement by giving their formal agreement and making the document official.

Any Member State that did not become a party to a protocol originally may join later. It describes the creation of departmental sectoral committees and the executive administration of the CDAA. Thirteen out of 15 CDAA member states are part of the free trade area, while Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo are excluded.