The Institutional Design of the AfCFTA
Why do international trade arrangements have their own institutions? What do these institutions do and how important are they for delivering the intended outcomes? This paper discusses these questions with respect to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The aim is to broaden the scope of the discussion about the potential impact of the AfCFTA. Will the AfCFTA add a unique dimension to Africa’s developmental strategies and abilities, or will it be a case of more of the same? The relevant provisions in the legal instruments of the AfCFTA are studied for indications as to what can be expected.
The formal foundation of the AfCFTA is a set of international legal instruments. They consist of a founding Agreement and, when completed, six additional Protocols. The Protocols contain their own annexes, appendices and, where required, schedules. These legal instruments constitute one integral legal compact. Article 23 of the AfCFTA Agreement foresees the possibility of more legal instruments if necessary.
The AfCFTA legal instruments are not self-executing. National and joint efforts are required to ensure that the perceived benefits will materialize. It is in this regard that the AfCFTA institutions could play an important role, provided they are equipped with the necessary powers. However, the main AfCFTA institutions are African Union (AU)-linked political platforms where representatives of the State Parties will meet from time to time and presumably take stock of bigger picture tendencies, as is the practice in the African Union. They have not been geared for executive action or technical guidance associated with trade regulation as pictured here. The AfCFTA institutions must now provide the necessary guidance.
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