The African Continental Free Trade Area: The dawn of a new era

AfCFTA: The dawn of a new era

This article was published in The Guardian Newspaper on 6 January 2021. Below is an excerpt from the article.

After years of planning, campaigning and negotiating, the time has come for execution. Trading under the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (“AfCFTA” or “the Agreement”) has officially commenced.

In what started years ago as a bold and, an unrealistic aspiration, the AfCFTA has morphed into a striking reality. Africa has created a working fifty-four member state1 free trade agreement, the largest since the creation of the one hundred and sixty-four member state World Trade Organisation.

Now that the thrill of planning a historic free trade agreement is over and the real work of implementation has commenced, what follows next?

It has often become necessary to review the basics of the AfCFTA, before embarking on a discussion on next steps. To start with, intra-Africa trade has been challenging to execute. Secondly and most importantly, there seems to be some mistrust of policies introduced by African governments, leaving many to write off an initiative of this magnitude. “It simply won’t work, so why bother”!

The basics of the AfCFTA

The AfCFTA intends to remove tariff and non-tariff barriers that ordinarily apply on certain ‘African goods’ when they move across the continent. The idea – just like it is for the several regional free trade agreements – is to make ‘African goods’ cheaper and more competitive across the continent.

The specific ‘African goods’ that will benefit from these trade incentives, as well as the criteria for determining when goods are indeed ‘African goods’ will be negotiated and documented by member states.

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