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The Institutions of the African Continental Free Trade Area

13 Sep 2019
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The Institutions of the African Continental Free Trade Area

Free Trade Areas (FTAs) need institutions to oversee, promote and monitor the implementation of obligations by the State Parties. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) establishes four key institutions, in addition to various technical bodies that are provided for in the different Protocols. These institutions will be responsible for ensuring that this ambitious undertaking succeeds.

The functions of the new AfCFTA institutions include political oversight and policy direction, as well as technical guidance and assistance. This will entail a new challenge for the structures of the African Union (AU); when it moves into the world of international trade regulation and ensuring compliance with multilateral trade rules. (Only five of the 55 AU members do not belong to the World Trade Organization – WTO).

The Assembly of the AU is the highest decision-making organ of the AfCFTA and shall provide oversight and strategic guidance on the AfCFTA, including the Action Plan for Boosting Intra-African Trade (BIAT). It also has the exclusive authority to adopt interpretations of this Agreement on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers. The decision to adopt an interpretation shall be taken by consensus.[1]

The Council of Ministers (those Ministers of the State Parties responsible for trade) must ensure the effective implementation and enforcement of the Agreement and must take all measures necessary for promoting the AfCFTA objectives. The Council of Ministers shall report to the Assembly through the Executive Council of the AU.[2]

The Committee of Senior Trade Officials (consisting of Permanent or Principal Secretaries designated by each State Party) must implement the decisions of the Council of Ministers. It can establish committees or working groups to oversee the implementation of the Agreement, may request a Technical Committee to investigate any particular matter, direct the Secretariat to undertake specific assignments, work in collaboration with the relevant organs and institutions of the AU, promote the harmonisation of appropriate policies, consider reports and activities of the Secretariat and take appropriate actions. It can also make regulations, issue directives and make recommendations.[3]

The Secretariat will be the only bespoke AfCFTA institution. It is not yet in operation but may turn out to be the vital cog in the AfCFTA machine. It shall be established by the AU Assembly, which shall decide its nature and approve its structure. The Secretariat shall be a functionally autonomous body within the AU system and will have an independent legal personality; autonomous of the AU Commission.[4] Its funds shall come from the overall annual budgets of the AU. It shall be headquartered in Accra, Ghana.

The roles and responsibilities of the Secretariat shall be determined by the Council of Ministers of Trade.[5] It will have many monitoring and support functions with regard to remedies, NTBs, Dispute Settlement etc. The Niamey Extraordinary African Union Assembly session of July 2019[6] directed the AU Commission to have the structure of the AfCFTA Secretariat, its work program and budget approved by the appropriate AU Policy Organs by February 2020.

There will also be an African Trade Observatory (ATO). The ATO must provide reliable and timely information on trade data, opportunities for regional value chains, market conditions and applied regulations, registered exporters and importers, as well as, authorized economic operators. An AfCFTA web-based and mobile application for business should be developed.


[1] Art 10 AfCFTA Agreement.

[2] Art 11 AfCFTA Agreement.

[3] Art 12 AfCFTA Agreement.

[4] Art 13 AfCFTA Agreement.

[5] Ibid.

[6] pdf Decisions and Declaration (205 KB)  adopted at the Twelfth Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU held on 7 July 2019 in Niamey, Niger. 

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