Working Papers

Implementing the AfCFTA: Obligations, Qualifications and Exceptions

Implementing the AfCFTA: Obligations, Qualifications and Exceptions

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22 Aug 2018

Author(s): Gerhard Erasmus

The launching ceremony of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on 21 March 2018 at the Extra-ordinary Summit of the African Union (AU) in Kigali, Rwanda was a major diplomatic event. The Agreement Establishing the AfCFTA, as well as the Protocols on Trade in Goods, Trade in Services and Dispute Settlement, were presented for signature at the Summit. As at end-July 2018, 49 out of the 55 AU Member States have signed the AfCFTA Agreement, and six Member States have already deposited their instruments of ratification, despite outstanding Phase I negotiations on tariff schedules, rules of origin, and the regulation of services.

The AfCFTA Agreement promises to “deepen the economic integration of the African continent” and to work towards “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa”. However, one should also be realistic regarding the speed at which all Parties will be able to comply. The AfCFTA contains a bold plan with far-reaching consequences for national economies. It will not happen overnight.

The aim is for the AfCFTA (i.e. Phase I legal instruments) to enter into force by January 2019, for which 22 ratifications are required. When and how does implementation begin? What must be implemented? What should be done to ensure optimal results and prevent technical hitches, delays or uncoordinated outcomes?

This Reference Paper discusses these questions in the context of the AfCFTA’s objectives and the nature of the obligations formally agreed upon by the Parties. We discuss what needs to be done in order to advance the “bigger picture” as contemplated by the AfCFTA Agreement, as well as specific tasks of individual State Parties under the different Protocols once in force.


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