AU AfCFTA Trade in Services Signalling Conference – Cape Town, 2-3 September 2019
tralac participated in the African Union’s African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Trade in Services Signalling Conference, 2-3 September 2019
The Conference, supported by the German government through the GIZ, brought together representatives from several AU member States, some regional economic communities (RECs) and private sector to discuss priorities for services sector commitments under the AfCFTA Agreement. The Conference culminated with participants presenting these priorities to selected African Ministers of Trade.
Over the course of the two-day Conference key themes in the discussions were:
- the important, but under-recognised nature of the services sectors
- the complexity of services development and trade
- the importance of underpinning infrastructure, particularly communications connectivity
- the role of services in goods trade,
- the role of services trade in enhancing economic development and growth, and
- the importance of the movement of people to services trade.
Priorities presented to Ministers were:
- the inclusion of private sector representatives in technical working groups
- free movement of professionals across the continent
- the establishment of specific technical working groups on trade in services
- transparency of permits, licensing and technical qualifications
- improved visas for tourism
- repatriation of funds, consistency of prudential rules and access to capital, and
- the creation of an African arbitration court.
Ministers undertook to take the priorities back to their respective governments and citizens and to meet again. Ministers also noted the importance of the informal sector in services.
Public officials also discussed the challenges of meeting the deadline for services commitment offers of January 2020 without modalities of negotiations, guidance around the number of sectors and sub-sectors to be committed, the role of reciprocity, the recognition of autonomous liberalisation and sought clarity on whether RECs would be preparing individual or joint offers.
Although little specific signalling emerged in the public aspects of the Conference, South Africa indicated its intention to offer, on a reciprocal basis, a schedule based on SADC commitments and some advances on its WTO commitments in business services, noting its high level of existing liberalisation in this sector. ECCAS indicated that it was preparing a joint offer from its 11 member countries, including commitments and complementary regulatory framework proposals, that would be ready to be shared following a technical meeting in November.
Private sector participants were generally supportive of the AfCFTA, and shared challenges faced doing business, but did not raise specific issues to be addressed or considered by negotiators except for a strong call for freer movement of business people and urging officials to involve the private sector in deliberations.
** Read more in the accompanying report.