Working Papers

The AfCFTA Institutions: Could the Secretariat hold the key to Implementation?

The AfCFTA Institutions: Could the Secretariat hold the key to Implementation?

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06 Feb 2019

Author(s): Gerhard Erasmus

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a vast and ambitious undertaking. It is designed to be an African Union flagship endeavour. It must be implemented under the applicable multilateral trade rules and will have to develop a modus operandi with the regional economic communities (RECs), which are the original building blocks of the African Economic Community (AEC).

This working paper discusses what institutions the AfCFTA will have and what they will be able to do once the Agreement enters into force. How will these institutions (the AfCFTA Secretariat, in particular) contribute to the fulfilment of the ambitious objective of boosting trade in goods and services among the 55 Member States of the African Union? Will they ensure that intra-African integration will happen in a rules-based manner?

The answers to these questions are important. Institutions will be vital for what happens once implementation of the AfCFTA Protocols begins. The institutional design of the AfCFTA contains indications of a compromise between creating a structure within the existing AU system and a proper trade organisation. The former feature might be more dominant but ultimately the State Parties will be individually responsible for implementing the obligations agreed to. If the AfCFTA structures are not endowed with monitoring and oversight powers, there will be delays and incoherent results. And if they cannot provide technical assistance and practical guidance, the promise of the AfCFTA will remain beyond the reach of many.

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