African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Legal Texts and Policy Documents
The Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) entered into force on 30 May 2019 for the 24 countries that had deposited their instruments of ratification. This date marked 30 days after 22 countries had deposited their ratification instruments with the African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson – the designated depositary for this purpose, as stipulated in Article 23 of the Agreement.
The 22-country threshold in conformity with legal provisions was reached on 29 April 2019 when Sierra Leone and the Saharawi Republic deposited their instruments of ratification with the depositary. To date, 30 countries have both signed and approved ratification of the AfCFTA Agreement. Of the 55 AU member states, only Eritrea has yet to sign.
The operational phase of the AfCFTA was subsequently launched during the 12th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union in Niamey, Niger on 7 July 2019. The AfCFTA will be governed by five operational instruments, i.e. the Rules of Origin; the online negotiating forum; the monitoring and elimination of non-tariff barriers; a digital payments system and the African Trade Observatory.
Trading under the AfCFTA Agreement was due to commence on 1 July 2020, but as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic, this date has been postponed. It has been indicated that the new date for operationalisation is 1 January 2021.
Download the full set of legal texts below.
The 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2012, adopted a decision to establish a Continental Free Trade Area by an indicative date of 2017. This deadline was, however, not met. The Summit also endorsed the Action Plan on Boosting Intra-Africa Trade (BIAT) which identifies seven priority action clusters: trade policy, trade facilitation, productive capacity, trade related infrastructure, trade finance, trade information, and factor market integration.
pdf AfCFTA: a tralac guide | 6th edition, November 2019 (1.64 MB) (read the e-booklet here)
The AfCFTA will bring together all 55 member states of the African Union covering a market of more than 1.2 billion people, including a growing middle class, and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of more than US$3.4 trillion. In terms of numbers of participating countries, the AfCFTA will be the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organization. Estimates from the Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) suggest that the AfCFTA has the potential both to boost intra-African trade by 52.3 percent by eliminating import duties, and to double this trade if non-tariff barriers are also reduced.
The main objectives of the AfCFTA are to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Customs Union. It will also expand intra-African trade through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization and facilitation and instruments across the RECs and across Africa in general. The AfCFTA is also expected to enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through exploitation of opportunities for scale production, continental market access and better reallocation of resources.
African leaders held an Extraordinary Summit on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) from 17-21 March 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda, during which the Agreement establishing the AfCFTA was presented for signature, along with the Kigali Declaration and the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community relating to the Free Movement of Persons, Right to Residence and Right to Establishment. In total, 44 out of the 55 AU member states signed the consolidated text of the AfCFTA Agreement, 47 signed the Kigali Declaration and 30 signed the Protocol on Free Movement. To date, only Eritrea has yet to sign the AfCFTA Agreement.
The legally scrubbed documents were signed on 16 May 2018:
Operational phase launched
The operational phase of the AfCFTA was launched during the 12th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly on the AfCFTA in Niamey in July 2019. The AfCFTA will be governed by five operational instruments, i.e. the Rules of Origin; the online negotiating forum; the monitoring and elimination of non-tariff barriers; a digital payments system and the African Trade Observatory.
In addition to the Niamey Declaration on the Launch of the Operational Phase of the AfCFTA – the key outcome – the following Decisions were adopted by the Assembly: (i) on hosting of the Secretariat of the AfCFTA; and (ii) on the successful hosting of the 12th Extraordinary Session of the AU Assembly and the First Mid-Year Coordination Meeting between the AU and the RECs.
The first meeting of the AfCFTA Council of Ministers responsible for trade took place in Addis Ababa on 24-25 October 2019. It was preceded by a meeting of senior technical officials on 21-23 October.
The most recent communication from the African Union on the AfCFTA is contained in a Decision adopted at the 33rd Ordinary AU Assembly held from 9-10 February, 2020 in Addis Ababa:
The AfCFTA Secretariat will be hosted by Ghana. H.E. Mr. Wamkele Mene was officially appointed the first Secretary General of the Secretariat on 19 March 2020. It is envisaged that the Secretariat will provide administrative support for the implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement, such as convening meetings, monitoring and evaluating the implementation process and other duties assigned to it by the Committee of Senior Officials, Council of Ministers, and the AU Assembly.
The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement entered into force on 30 May 2019 for those countries that had deposited their instruments of ratification before this date.
According to Article 23 of the Agreement, entry into force occurs 30 days after the 22nd instrument of ratification is deposited with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) – the designated depositary for this purpose – an essential step for the AfCFTA to enter into force. On 29 April 2019, Sierra Leone and the Saharawi Republic deposited their instruments of ratification with the depositary, paving the way for the AfCFTA’s entry into force. Of the 55 AU member states, only Eritrea has yet to sign the Agreement.
The 31 countries that have deposited their instruments of AfCFTA ratification with the AUC Chairperson are Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Niger, Chad, Congo Republic, Djibouti, Guinea, Eswatini, Mali, Mauritania, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda, Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), Senegal, Togo, Egypt, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Saharawi Republic, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, São Tomé and Príncipe, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Mauritius, Angola, Lesotho and Tunisia. Ratification has been approved by Somalia, Algeria, Cameroon and Nigeria; deposit of these instruments of ratification is pending. Zambia has also indicated Cabinet approval for ratification, bringing the total number of ratifications approved by AU member states to 36.
Research and analysis
tralac has been monitoring the AfCFTA negotiations with keen interest. Several papers, briefs and discussion notes have been published to encourage debate and inform government officials, policymakers, and interested stakeholders on key issues involved in the negotiation of Africa’s own mega-regional trade agreement. A list of related outputs is available below.