Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Subsidiarity: Should it be included as a guideline for the CFTA Negotiations?

Trade Briefs

Subsidiarity: Should it be included as a guideline for the CFTA Negotiations?

Subsidiarity: Should it be included as a guideline for the CFTA Negotiations?

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Africa’s integration agenda has always been an ambitious one. The typical approach is to target trade in goods and for the Member States to determine, in advance, the timelines for forming FTAs, Customs Unions and Common Markets. This is a top-down and linear integration model. Is the CFTA on the same course?

By invoking the agenda of the Abuja Treaty as a CFTA objective the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) will be building blocks of the CFTA. In order to perform this function they will have to remain active contributors to the continental integration endeavour. It therefore makes sense to look at the REC responsibilities, functions and commitments as CFTA building blocks.

Some of the RECs have recently made headway in certain areas of integration within their respective sub-regions. They have expanded the scope of their integration agendas and some apparently allow the “flag to follow the trade”. However, the implementation of most of these schemes have proven to be beyond the capacity of many of the Member States. The required political will to give up national policy space and to accept the discipline of, for example, a common external tariff (CET) is mostly absent; while the implementation burden is generally experienced as very onerous. Regional institutions lack the power to monitor compliance by Member States. Disputes about trade issues are never declared.

We believe the CFTA initiative requires a fresh approach to economic integration. Unless the challenges posed by the contemporary global environment are recognised and lessons are learned from the implementation record of the RECs, the CFTA’s aim of boosting intra-African trade in a comprehensive manner, and achieving other development objectives, will not materialize. The CFTA negotiations could also benefit from studying the approaches adopted elsewhere for concluding new preferential Partnership Agreements.

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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