Building capacity to help Africa trade better

First Meeting of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Technical Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights


First Meeting of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Technical Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights

First Meeting of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Technical Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights

The Seventh Meeting of African Union (AU) Ministers of Trade, which took place on 12-13 December 2018 in Cairo, Arab Republic of Egypt, directed that Technical Working Groups (TWGs) be established on Investment, Competition Policy and Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), in order to assist the completion of the AfCFTA negotiations by the AfCFTA Negotiating Forum (NF).

The 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU which took place from 10 to 11 February 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, requested the AU Ministers responsible for trade to conclude these negotiations and submit the draft legal texts to the January 2021 Session of the Assembly, for adoption through the Specialized Technical Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.

These requests were based on the pre-existing undertaking that AU Member States shall enter into Phase II negotiations in these three areas, and that the agreed Protocols and their Annexes and Appendices shall form part of the AfCFTA single undertaking, subject to entry into force.

In order to give effect to these decisions, the first Meeting of the AfCFTA TWG on IPRs is due to start in Addis Ababa on 11 November 2020. The meeting will last three days and will be conducted in line with the Terms of Reference (ToRs) developed by the African Union Commission (AUC).

The TORs of the TWG stipulates that it shall report to the AfCFTA-Negotiating Forum on its activities, which shall include the following specific responsibilities:

  • Propose the approach and modalities for the IPR negotiations in the AfCFTA;

  • Agree on the work schedule and sequencing of the negotiations;

  • Prepare a draft text on the proposed IPR Protocol for the AfCFTA which advances the interests of Member States and fosters innovation;

  • Identify areas of priority, where necessary, for AfCFTA IPR negotiations;

  • Undertake a technical situation analysis of IPRs applicable on the continent and in each Regional Economic Community (REC) recognised by the African Union;

  • Provide recommendations based on an analysis of the needs assessments which includes technical assistance;

  • Propose activities for the technical assistance and capacity building effort to support negotiations in IPRs;

  • Prepare reports of its meetings and make recommendations to the AfCFTA-NF for its consideration, and;

  • Undertake any other tasks referred to it by the AfCFTA-NF relating to the proposed IPRs Protocol

The TWG has a busy few days and a full agenda ahead. Its main task for this meeting is to develop the Work Schedule and Sequencing of Negotiations on IPRs. A good outcome from this first meeting would be a Work Schedule which gives an indication of:

  • What the TWG sees as a realistic time frame within which to complete its tasks

  • How progressive it wants to be in terms of unifying and streamlining the current IP dispensation in Africa

  • The extent to which it is keen to accommodate recent developments in, and to consider positive additions to the existing multilateral IP dispensation

  • Its views on more recently raised issues such as traditional knowledge, folklore, cultural expression and genetic resources.

  • Its views on debates on issues such as reasonable access to IPRs and rights held by communities

  • The point in time at which it aims to produce a first draft text of the proposed Protocol.

About the Author(s)

Abrie du Plessis

Abrie du Plessis studied law at the University of Stellenbosch where he completed his BA (Law) and LLB degrees. He started his career in the South African Department of Justice, but soon returned to teach mostly Private Law at the University of Stellenbosch. In 1993 he joined a South African-based multinational company as an Intellectual Property Practitioner. From 1995 his main focus was Regulatory Affairs and he spent several years in this role in South Africa before moving on to London in 2002, after which he mostly advised on various aspects of Public International Law. In 2009 he moved to Brussels with an added role relating to European Union Law.

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