Pushing ahead with AfCFTA

Niveen Wahish , Wednesday 22 Feb 2023

African nations have renewed their commitment to a continental free trade area.

Pushing ahead with AfCFTA
Pushing ahead with AfCFTA


“The Year of AfCFTA: Acceleration of the African Continental Free Trade Area Implementation” was the theme of the African Union (AU) summit held earlier this week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “[We] shall leave no stone unturned to ensure that AfCFTA becomes a reality,” Comoros President Azali Assoumani, who took over as rotating AU chairman, told the closing session.

Launched in 2019, AfCFTA brings together 54 African countries with a combined GDP of over $3 trillion.

Obi Emekekwue, the president of DelReeve Konsult Limited, told Al-Ahram Weekly that Africa has already made impressive progress towards the implementation of the AfCFTA. “It says a lot that only one out of the 55 African Union member states is yet to sign the AfCFTA.” This level of political support is unprecedented, especially within such a short timeframe, he said.

Of the 54 AU member states that have signed the agreement, 46 have deposited their instruments of ratification. By easing movement of goods, services and people, cutting imports and expanding intra-African trade, the agreement promises to lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty and boost the continent’s income by $450 billion by 2035.

To heighten awareness of trade and investment opportunities and promote government, business and investor engagement, AfCFTA’s secretariat is organising an AfCFTA Business Forum on 8-10 March.

Despite past initiatives to inform the private sector of the benefits of AfCFTA and sustain implementation of the agreement, no commercially significant trade has taken place under the deal since its launch on 1 January 2021, says Sherif Fahmi, chief operating officer of N Gage Consulting.

The secretariat launched a Guided Trade Initiative in October to test the operational, institutional, legal and trade policy environment under the AfCFTA. Eight countries — Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Tunisia — are included in the initiative. Products being traded include ceramic tiles, batteries, tea, coffee, processed meat products, corn starch, sugar, pasta, glucose syrup, and dried fruits.

The successful deployment of the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS), developed by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) as the official payment and settlement system to support the implementation of the AfCFTA, was a key milestone, said Emekekwue. It allows participants to trade within the AfCFTA framework in local currencies, saving Africa about $5 billion annually.

The secretariat has also partnered with the International Trade Centre (ITC) to conduct private sector mapping, providing a critical tool for understanding and harnessing the private sector’s potential to contribute to African development through trade. Emekekwue acknowledged, though, that much needs to be done to achieve full implementation of AfCFTA.

Africa suffers from challenges most other regions do not face, says Fahmi, and the region requires unprecedented levels of commitment for the AfCFTA to succeed. Challenges include geographic and political fragmentation and tariff and non-tariff restrictions that slow cross border trade and increase the per unit cost of moving goods.

The biggest challenge to the implementation of the AfCFTA, however, is ensuring countries stick to their commitment to the process and do not become distracted, said Emekekwue. “Given the critical importance and the huge benefits of the AfCFTA, every African country has an obligation to do everything to give it its full support,” he argued.

It is important for African countries to remove restrictions that hinder the free movement of people across the continent, he added. There is a pressing need to deal with visa regimes that make it difficult for Africans to travel freely to other African countries, and for leaders to address the protectionist policies that limit African airlines from flying freely within the continent.

According to Rihan Badr, associate director at N Gage Consulting, strengthening the integration required for AfCFTA also requires infrastructure development, the strengthening of political cooperation, the facilitating of business integration and streamlining of rules and regulations through regulatory cooperation.

The AU summit sought to generate greater political commitment in trade as a developmental tool and mobilise solutions and solidarity to create interlinkages between member states, AU bodies, private sector actors, development partners, added Badr.

It is important for the AU to continue to prevail on member states to live up to their commitment to the AfCFTA process, stressed Emekekwue.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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