Experts have called the July 7 Extra-Ordinary Summit of the African Union in Niamey, Niger, a pivotal and a historic milestone in African integration because African leaders launched the operational phase of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement as well as its operational instruments.
The main objectives of the agreement are to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments. It will, consequently, pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Customs Union.
It will also expand intra-African trade through better harmonisation and coordination of trade liberalisation and facilitation and instruments across the regional economic communities and across Africa in general.
A lot has been written about the trade deal but many people on the continent know little, or nothing, about it. Sunday Times talked to Dr Francis Mangeni (pictured), Director for Trade, Customs and Monetary Affairs at the COMESA Secretariat, in a bid toshedmore light on the status of AfCFTA after Niamey.
“It is now a binding Agreement, giving rights and demanding obligations, which can be enforced using available means,” he said.
“However, the Agreement is binding only among those countries that have ratified it. That is, the 26 countries. Only these can use the rights it confers and be required to abide by the obligations it demands”.
Mangeni further explained that in light of a number of outstanding issues and unfinished business, a date has been set for next year when its provisions can actually be used in trading.
Among the most important of the next steps is the phase II negotiations – on intellectual property rights, investment, and competition policy – scheduled to commence in late 2019.
“For instance, we need the customs documents to be ready. Without them, consignments cannot be processed under the AfCFTA regime. We need committees to be operationalised, the NTB mechanism to be effectively in place, as well as trade disputes panels.”
In addition, the areas where negotiations are yet to be completed will only have regimes to use, when completed.
“For instance, services, competition, investment and intellectual property. For now, the trade in goods is one area nearly ready for use”.
The AfCFTA Agreement was adopted and opened for signature on March 21, 2018 in Kigali. The Agreement entered into force on May 30, 2019, 30 days after having received the twenty-second instrument of ratification on April 29, 2019 in conformity with legal provisions.
“The speedy entry into force of the AfCFTA is a source of pride for all of us,” said AU Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, who described the free trade agreement as one of the instruments for continental integration in line with the aspirations of Agenda 2063.
The AfCFTA will be one of the largest free trade areas since the formation of the World Trade Organisation, 24 years ago.