How will the AfCFTA enter into force, be implemented, and be completed?
Since the adoption by the African Union (AU) Assembly of the texts of the founding agreement of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the Protocol on Trade in Goods, the Protocol on Trade in Services and the Protocol on Rules and Procedures on the Settlement of Disputes, in Kigali on 21 March 2018, 54 AU Members have signed these international legal instruments. The AU Assembly has also actively encouraged them to deposit their instruments of ratification and to do so as soon as possible. And many have done exactly this, despite the fact that the negotiations to complete Phase I have not been concluded.
Phase I of the AfCFTA negotiations has made some progress but the Schedules of Tariff Concessions, the Rules of Origin, and the Schedules of Specific Commitments on Trade in Services are still outstanding. Without these essential features there cannot be any preferential trade under the AfCFTA. (Phase II negotiations have not yet started.) Intra-African trade will, in the meantime, continue but under MFN rules and in terms of specific Regional Economic Community (REC) arrangements. Continent-wide preferential trade will have to wait till the AfCFTA is fully operational.
When will trade under this deal become possible and allow goods and services to move across intra-African borders at preferential rates, new market access provisions and under more flexible procedures? It depends on when the required legal, procedural and operational aspects of this Free Trade Area (FTA) will be in place. An FTA is a legal construct for liberalising trade in goods.
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