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Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area, provides a market of 1.3 billion people, likely to create a $3.4 trillion economic bloc but what exactly will Africans be trading in, asks *Sylvester Bagooro.

What products would pass as African products (rules of origin in trade language) under Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) remain contested by member states, trade experts and varied stake-holders in Africa. The contest emanates from how to agree on rules that will serve not only the diverse immediate interests of member states but also the broader picture of economic transformation in Africa as envisaged by the Heads of State when they launched the negotiations of the AfCFTA in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2015. Related to the rules are weak productive bases of most African economies and with less sectorial linkages among others. Hence the rules must be appropriately defined to suit the African reality. If loosely defined, Africa’s market will be flooded with foreign products and the much-needed economic transformation will be a mirage. On the other hand, if they are too strict, they can also be counter-productive and frustrate the smooth operation of potential and existing regional value chains. The resolution of this conundrum is foundational.

The issue of appropriate rules for the AfCFTA as well as the related issues of production, trade infrastructure became topical concerns not only during the 12th Extra-Ordinary Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union held in Niamey, Niger, on the 7th of July 2019, but also events leading up to the AU Summit. Prior to the Summit, there were civil society and business forums held on the 3rd of July and 6th of July 2019 respectively, during which these issues, related productive capacities as well as trade infrastructure were raised by various panelists.

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