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The AfCFTA Approach to Mutual Recognition

By Gerhard Erasmus
26 Oct 2019
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The AfCFTA Approach to Mutual Recognition

For the liberalization of trade service to materialize to the extent that service suppliers can reap the associated benefits in the sectors recognized under the AfCFTA, there should be arrangements for persons permitted or licensed to practice a certain profession in one of the State Parties, to practice that profession in the territories of other State Parties. This is typically done through the mutual recognition of qualifications, educational standards, licenses or certifications granted in another country. This form of recognition is essentially an acceptance by the host country that the regulation of professional standards in the exporting country is “good enough”.

In the field of services recognition is about either foreign regulatory standards or foreign licensing or other qualification regimes. GATS Article VII:1 permits recognition of “education or experience obtained, requirements met, or licenses or certifications granted in a particular country”. Measures in the field of professional services must not constitute unnecessary barriers to trade but it has proven very difficult to work out the necessary multilateral rules. Accountancy is the only area in which this was possible.

It has been noted that in most regional and geographic arrangements the negotiation of the specifics of recognition arrangements is delegated to the relevant private professional bodies. Such negotiations are hampered by diversity, by concerns about the loss of regulatory sovereignty, and the protection of markets for professionals already recognized.[1] Accreditation may then become part of the process. Accreditation provides an educational institution or program with a “credential” that it satisfies the quality criteria established by the accrediting body.

In some professions recognition of qualifications may be easier because competencies are recognised as having a common baseline. This is claimed in respect of e.g. engineering qualifications. Engineering professions are themselves mobile; developing as well as developed countries need engineering services for infrastructure and related services.

Engineering professional bodies have agreed on common minimum standards to make the recognition of standards and qualifications easier. The Engineering Council of South Africa is a signatory to three such agreements: the Washington Accord, Sydney Accord and Dublin Accord. The signatories have agreed on benchmarking through periodic monitoring of each other’s accreditation criteria and processes.[2] Under these Accords the signatories accept that each other’s accreditation procedures are comparable, accept each other’s accredited degrees, operate a periodic monitoring process, agree to identify and encourage implementation of best practises, accept that accreditation applies to home jurisdictions only, and accept the need to encourage licensing and registration authorities to apply the principles in these Accords.[3]

Educational authorities have also undertaken important work to foster the mutual recognition of academic qualifications. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Regional Qualification Framework (RQF) was established in 2011 and is implemented by the member states of SADC. The SADC RQF focuses on trust between the member states and promotes mutual recognition of qualifications (MRQs) as harmonisation and referencing mechanisms for qualifications from the SADC Member States are further developed. The same general goal is pursued on a continental scale under the Addis Convention of 2014. The aim is to have mutual recognition of qualifications for purposes of increased access, mobility, credit accumulation and transfer, and articulation for lifelong learning and skills development across the continent.

Article 10 of the Protocol in Trade in Services the outlines the scheme in terms of which mutual recognition should happen among AfCFTA State Parties.

  • An AfCFTA State Party may recognise the education or experience obtained, licenses or certifications granted in another State Party. Such recognition, which may be achieved through harmonisation or otherwise, may be based upon an agreement or arrangement with another State Party, or may be accorded autonomously.

  • A State Party that is a party to such agreements or arrangements, shall afford adequate opportunity for other interested State Parties to negotiate their accession to such agreements or arrangements or to negotiate comparable ones with it.

  • Where a State Party accords recognition autonomously, it shall afford adequate opportunity for any other State Party to demonstrate that its education, licenses, or certifications should also be recognised.

  • A State Party shall not accord recognition in a manner which discriminates between State Parties or constitutes a disguised restriction on trade in services.

  • Each State Party shall, within 12 months from the date on which the AfCFTA Agreement enters into force for it, inform the Secretariat of its existing recognition measures and state whether such measures are based on recognition agreements or arrangements.

  • A State Party shall also inform the other State Parties (through the Secretariat) of negotiations on a recognition agreement or arrangement in order to provide opportunity to any other State Patty to indicate whether they want to participate in such negotiations.

  • A State Party must inform the other States Parties (through the Secretariat) when it adopts new recognition measures or modifies existing ones.

  • Wherever appropriate, recognition should be based on AfCFTA agreed criteria. In appropriate cases, State Parties shall work in cooperation with relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations to adopt common continental standards and criteria for recognition and for the practice of relevant services trades and professions.

The Mutual Recognition regime created under the AfCFTA Protocol on Trade in Services is rather typical of what standard regional trade arrangements provide for. It is permissive in nature (not peremptory), pursues the goal of mutual recognition via future negotiations to join existing recognition arrangements, or that State Parties must demonstrate that their education, licenses, or certifications should be recognised. Transparency is important.

The possibility of AfCFTA agreed criteria for recognition (in appropriate cases) is a future challenge, to be undertaken in cooperation with intergovernmental and professional organisations. The AfCFTA provides a framework for doing so, presumably via the efforts of the Committee on Trade in Services, which shall carry out functions assigned to it by the Council of Ministers.[4]


[1] Trachtman, Mutual Recognition of Services at the WTO, in Lim and De Meester, WTO Domestic Regulation and Services Trade, Cambridge University Press, 2014 at 121.

[2] https://www.ecsa.co.za/education/SitePages/Qualifications%20Recognised.aspx

[3] Ibid.

[4] Art 26 Protocol.

About the Author(s)

Gerhard Erasmus

Gerhard Erasmus

Gerhard Erasmus is a founder of tralac and Professor Emeritus (Law Faculty), University of Stellenbosch. He holds degrees from the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein (B.Iuris, LL.B), Leiden in the Netherlands (LLD) and a Master’s from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He has consulted for governments, the private sector and regional organisations in southern Africa. He has also been involved in the drafting of the South African and Namibian constitutions. He grew up in Namibia.

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