Working Papers

Completing and Implementing the AfCFTA in difficult times

Completing and Implementing the AfCFTA in difficult times

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29 Jul 2020

Author(s): Gerhard Erasmus and Trudi Hartzenberg

Realising the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was never going to be easy. The challenges are about agreeing on a design for integrating a large number of economies at very different levels of development, the nature of the obstacles hindering intra-African trade, the prevalence of governance blockages, and the economic policy landscape to be traversed. Pushing for the early entry into force of the AfCFTA Agreement before essential aspects had been negotiated didn’t help. The COVID-19 pandemic has further derailed the workplan for completing the outstanding AfCFTA negotiations.

The AfCFTA Agreement and the Protocols on trade in goods and services, as well as dispute settlement, have entered into force more than a year ago. However, essential aspects have not yet been agreed. This is not entirely surprising. The outstanding negotiations are about complex tariff reductions, rules of origin and conditions for trade in services in the priority areas. As long as the instruments for these disciplines remain outstanding, AfCFTAbased preferential trade is not possible. The officially declared target date of 1 July 2020 has not been met. It has recently been suggested that trade under AfCFTA rules could (perhaps) start at the beginning of 2021. However, there is no formal decision yet about this important date.

This paper discusses the steps still required to finalise the AfCFTA framework and to implement the relevant technical aspects as provided in or required by its legal instruments. The discussion commences with an overview of where the process stands and what is still outstanding.


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