AFRICAN CONTINENTAL FREE TRADE AREA (AfCFTA) FINALLY TAKES OFF

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In fulfillment of the laudable aspiration of African leaders for a game-changing and dynamic African Free Trade Area, trading under the AfCFTA has been officially launched on January 1, 2021, after months of delay due to disruptions occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Recall that in March 2018 African Heads of State and Government held an extraordinary summit in Kigali, Rwanda, to put their signature to an agreement that launched the African Continental Free Trade Area and in July 2019, launched the new agreement into its operational phase.

Against all odds, 54 African Union States have created a historic world’s largest Free Trade Area since the formation of the World Trade Organization and successfully entered it into force practically in one year, a far shorter time than it took other regions with fewer nations and smaller Free Trade Areas.

The AfCFTA is intended to, among other things, boost intra-African trade, unleash regional value chains that will facilitate Africa’s meaningful integration into the global economy and also improve the prospects of Africa as an attractive investment destination.

However, despite that trading under the AfCFTA has taken off, many have described the road ahead in the implementation of the AfCFTA, a long one considering that necessary modalities have yet to be put in place.

One of the disturbing signs suggestive of a long road ahead is the snail-paced ratification of the AfCFTA by AU Member States. According to Mr.WamkeleMene, Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Secretariat, only 34 nations have agreed to ratify the AfCFTA Agreement and even at that, many lack the customs and infrastructure to fully implement continental free trade.

There is also clearly a mismatch between Member States’ enthusiasm for the Free Trade Area and seeming cold feet towards free movement. So far, 33 Member States have signed the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and only 4, of the 33, have deposited their ratifications with the AU Commission. This is a major draw-back as the protocol on free movement requires 15 ratifications to enter into force.

Experts fear that the aspirations of AfCFTA will be undermined unless Africans can move freely and work within the continent. Free trade cannot be successfully achieved without free movement; it was for that reason that the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons was also tabled for signing on the day AU Member States signed the AfCFTA Agreement in March 2018.

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