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Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Topics publications: African regional integration

The African Continental Free Trade Area: A tralac guide (updated February 2024)

This booklet, updated in February 2024, provides a guide to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and how it fits within Africa’s broader development agenda – the architecture of the AfCFTA Agreement, what the Agreement covers, institutional arrangements, committees and other AfCFTA initiatives.

This edition includes an update on tariff negotiations for trade in goods, rules of origin, Phase II and Phase III negotiations, dispute settlement, the Guided Trade Initiative, the AfCFTA as a framework for Africa’s industrialisation, and value chain opportunities for African and global investors.


Further information on the AfCFTA negotiations, as well as the legal texts of the AfCFTA Agreement and ratification status of the legal instruments, is available on tralac’s AfCFTA resources page.

Trade Briefs

Does Africa have two trade liberalisation and economic integration strategies? Comparing the AfCFTA Agreement and the Abuja Treaty

The African Union does not pursue a two-track approach on African integration. Despite the differences in emphasis, levels of ambition and timeframes, both the AFCFTA Agreement and the Abuja Treaty contain plans for integrating African economies and pursuing economic development strategies. They do so at different times and within a prevailing context.

The relationship between the AfCFTA and the AEC is not officially clarified, and it appears as if this need is deliberately downplayed. The Abuja Treaty was ratified and entered into force but seems to serve more of an inspirational function now. The AfCFTA is more pragmatic, shaped by the challenges of the day and the needs of individual nations. It puts less emphasis on solidarity and Pan-Africanism but stresses practical matters such as the preservation of the acquis, reciprocity and global trade relations.

Trade Reports

The exhaustion of local remedies: The evolving jurisprudence of the COMESA Court of Justice

In August 2023, the Appellate Division of the COMESA Court of Justice delivered an important judgment in two appeals brought by a Mauritian company, Agiliss Limited, against earlier rulings of the Court’s First Instance Division. In the FID, Agiliss based both its references squarely and exclusively on provisions of the COMESA Treaty, especially its trade measures. This is significant because the courts of the African Regional Economic Communities (RECs) are not inundated with regional trade-related cases.

Trade Reports

Should the AfCFTA have a Protocol on Climate Change?

The AfCFTA has become the focal point of discussions about a wide range of matters, including how to boost intra-African trade and economic integration, how the State Parties can industrialise and develop value chains, how to accommodate the needs of women traders, and how to deal with technological and digital developments. It has been argued that the AfCFTA also needs a protocol on the environment, and more specifically on climate change. Such a protocol will have to be negotiated, adopted, and ratified by the 55 Members of the African Union (AU). This will be a daunting task, and the new protocol will overlap with existing multilateral and regional climate-related arrangements. Is an additional Protocol on Climate Change under the AfCFTA arrangement therefore needed?

Trade Briefs

Trading under the COMESA Simplified Trading Regime: Review of Zimbabwe-Zambia-Malawi

The informal economy plays a crucial role in Africa’s development, particularly without formal economic opportunities. It contributes to income generation, job creation, structural transformation, and food security. Informal cross-border trade (ICBT) occurs daily between neighbouring countries and most of the traders are vulnerable individuals, including women and youth, who typically make up most informal cross-border traders (ICBTs). Although ICBT trade can bring about positive change, African policymakers have historically overlooked its significance. The trade facilitation needs of ICBTs have been frequently disregarded when creating trade policies at regional and national levels within African nations. The lack of proper implementation of regional trading protocols and awareness poses numerous challenges for these traders.

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) has introduced and been implementing measures and programs such as the Simplified Trade Regime (STR) to address this important but neglected policy area. This Trade Brief aims to provide a brief overview of the COMESA STR, followed by a bilateral trade analysis of the specific goods that qualify under the COMESA STR for Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi. The analysis provides a country-by-country breakdown of the relevant trade data.

Trade Reports

Africa’s Trade Liberalisation and Intra-Africa Trade Performance: 10-year Review

This Trade Report presents an update on the state of trade liberalisation and intra-Africa trade. It highlights the state of trade liberalisation in Africa, focusing on intra-Africa trade, followed by REC-specific trade. Trade data in Africa is not always accurate as some countries do not report their trade data, in which case mirror data is used. But with many non-reporting countries, this becomes problematic. Therefore, the analysis provided here should be considered as indicative of trading patterns. It is worth noting that overlapping membership within RECs can result in double counting when analysing REC-level data. However, this analysis does provide insights into the state of tariff liberalisation and the increasing trade among the RECs.

Trade Briefs

Value chains and industrialisation: what is the status of the AfCFTA RoO?

Rules of Origin (RoO) are the legal provisions and related criteria that are used to establish the nationality of traded goods. RoO that are used in non-preferential trade serve various purposes, such as for recording trade statistics, to enforce country of origin labelling, trade remedy investigations and for other purposes, and national origin criteria are used to allocate an origin to a product. For preferential trade, RoO criteria are agreed by the contracting parties (in the case of trade agreements) and used to determine the nationality of a product based on its economic origin, that is, the place where any non-originating materials and intermediate goods are substantially transformed to obtain the economic passport of a preferential trade partner.

This makes RoO an essential component of the AfCFTA goods protocol, and of any other preferential trade arrangement. The AfCFTA RoO provisions have been a long time in the making but remain a partly unresolved matter given that the RoO in key sectors have not yet been fully agreed.

Trade Briefs

Egypt’s Potential Value Chain Development under the AFCFTA

This trade brief explores the potential for AfCFTA-enabled regional value chain (RVC) development for Egypt, a North African country with significant value chain links with Europe and the Middle East but limited links with the rest of Africa. It overviews Egypt’s current global and regional value chain involvement and its potential approach to the AfCFTA. It then presents a data and visualisation-driven analysis of Egypt’s current global and regional value chain participation, before drilling into its Africa-specific value chain involvement: both backward and forward participation. Finally, it offers several conclusions relating to the potential for Egypt to both deepen and extend its intra-African regional value chain participation under the AfCFTA, and potentially advance its industrialisation drive.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Reports

Can Africa speak with one voice on trade matters through the AfCFTA?

There are high expectations about what will happen once the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is fully operational. Some predict that intra-African trade in goods (and some services) will increase dramatically and that investors will flock to the continent. The AfCFTA is expected to bring about a continent-wide preferential trade arrangement comprising fifty-five countries, with 1.3 billion inhabitants and a combined GDP of US$3.4 trillion. As of May 2023, forty-seven African countries have already ratified the AfCFTA Agreement, which is in force since 30 May 2019 but not yet implemented. (Certain tariff issues and rules of origin must still be finalised.)

There is also a belief that the AfCFTA will allow Africa to speak with “one voice” about international trade issues. This paper discusses this possibility. Certain questions should be asked: What does it mean to speak with one voice on trade-related matters? Is the AfCFTA designed to articulate a single African trade-focused voice? What will be said? Who will be addressed? Where and how will joint strategies be formulated? We start by asking why a continent of 55 sovereign states needs a single voice on trade issues and whether it would be possible to agree on what will be said on behalf of all the AfCFTA State Parties.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

Algeria’s Potential Value Chain Development under the AfCFTA

This trade brief explores the potential for AfCFTA-enabled regional value chain (RVC) development for Algeria, a North African country with significant value chain links with Europe but limited links with the rest of Africa. It overviews Algeria’s current global and regional value chain involvement and its potential approach to the AfCFTA. It then presents a data and visualisation-driven analysis of Algeria’s current global and regional value chain participation, before drilling into its Africa-specific value chain involvement: both backward and forward participation. Finally, it offers several conclusions relating to the potential for Algeria to both deepen and extend its intra-African regional value chain participation under the AfCFTA, and potentially advance its industrialisation drive.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

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