African Continental Free Trade Area

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is the result of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement among all 55 members of the African Union.[1] If ratified, the agreement would result in the largest free-trade area in terms of participating countries since the formation of the World Trade Organization.[2]

African heads of state gathered in Kigali, Rwanda in March 2018 to sign the proposed agreement.[2][1] Forty-four of the 55 members of the African Union signed it on 21 March 2018.[3]

The Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) is a continent-wide free-trade agreement brokered by the African Union (AU) and initially signed on by 44 of its 55 member states in Kigali, Rwanda on March 21, 2018.[4] The agreement initially requires members to remove tariffs from 90% of goods, allowing free access to commodities, goods, and services across the continent.[4] The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimates that the agreement will boost intra-African trade by 52 percent by 2022.[5] The proposal will come into force after ratification by 22 of the signatory states.[4]


Initial planning for the agreement began in 2013,[6] with negotiations held in 2015 via AU summits.[7]

The first negotiation forum was held in February 2016 and held eight meetings until the Summit in March 2018 in Kigali. From February 2017 on the technical working groups held four meetings, where technical issues were discussed and implemented in the draft. On 8-9 March 2018 the African Union Ministers of Trade approved the draft.[8]

At the extraordinary Summit of the Assembly of the African Union on 21 March in Kigali the Agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area was signed, along with the Kigali Declaration and the Protocol of Free Movement. Other countries who signed the Kigali declaration, including South Africa and Namibia, are expected to sign the agreement during the AU summit in July.[9]

Negotiations will continue in 2018 with Phase II, including policies of investment, competition and intellectual property rights.[10] On the January 2020 AU Assembly negotiations are envisaged to be concluded.[11]

South Africa, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Lesotho and Burundi have since signed the AfCFTA during the 31st African Union Summit in Nouakchott. [12]


Several institutions will be created when the AfCFTA comes into force. According to the results of Phase I negotiations the following institutions will be established to facilitate the implementation of the free trade area. As a result of Phase II negotiations more committees may be established via protocols.[13]

AfCFTA secretariat

The secretariat will be responsible for coordinating the implementation of the agreement and shall be an autonomous body within the AU system. Though it will have independent legal personality, it shall work closely with the AU Commission and receive its budget from the AU. The Council of Ministers responsible for trade will decide on the location of the headquarter, structure, role and responsibilities.[10]

Assembly of the African Union Heads of State and Government

The Assembly is the highest decision-making body. It is likely to meet during the AU Summits.[14]

Council of Ministers responsible for trade

The Council provides strategic trade policy oversight and ensures effective implementation and enforcement of the AfCFTA Agreement.[14]

Committee of Senior Trade Officials

The Committee of Senior Trade Officials implements the Council’s decisions. The Committee is responsible for the development of programs and action plans for the implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement.[14]

Dispute Settlement Body

Its rules and procedures will be laid down in the Protocol on Dispute Settlement, which is to be negotiated.[10]


Several Committees will be established through protocols to assist with the implementation of specific matters. It is already agreed to establish committees for trade in goods, trade in services, on rules of origin, trade remedies, non-tariff barriers, technical barriers to trade and on sanitary and phytosanitary measures.[14]


Most AU member states signed the initial agreement, including:

Benin, Botswana, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, and Zambia did not sign the initial agreement.[15] President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari was particularly reluctant to join if it hurt Nigerian entrepreneurship and industry.[16]

Human Rights Assessment

An interdisciplinary team[17] carried out a human rights assessment of the agreement as the negotiations were underway. This assessment was mandated by the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Friedrich Ebert Stifting. The full report of its findings were published in July 2017.[18], and a Policy Brief [19] which its main recommendations were shared with African countries' officials during the following negotiating sessions.

See also


  1. 1 2 Loes Witschge (20 Mar 2018). "African Continental Free Trade Area: What you need to know". Al Jazeera.
  2. 1 2 Justina Crabtree (20 Mar 2018). "Africa is on the verge of forming the largest free trade area since the World Trade Organization". CNBC.
  3. "African leaders sign continental free-trade agreement". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  4. 1 2 3 "Forty-four African countries sign a free-trade deal". The Economist. March 22, 2018.
  5. Witschge, Loes (March 20, 2018). "African Continental Free Trade Area: What you need to know". Al-Jazeera.
  6. "Meeting of the Continental Task force on the Continental free Trade area (CFTA), 17-18 October 2013, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia". African Union. October 18, 2013.
  7. "The African Union Assembly launches the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) negotiations". African Union. June 17, 2015.
  8. tralac, trade law centre. "African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Legal Texts and Policy Documents". Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  9. "SA keen to sign agreement establishing AfCFTA". SAnews. 2018-03-26. Retrieved 2018-03-28.
  10. 1 2 3 "African Continental Free Trade Area - Questions & Answers" (PDF). African Union. 15 March 2018. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  11. "Decision on the draft agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)" (PDF). African Union. 21 March 2018.
  13. Erasmus, Gerhard (22 March 2018). "How will the AfCFTA be established and its Legal Instruments be implemented?". tralac Discussion. trade law centre. Retrieved 2018-03-28.
  14. 1 2 3 4 Chidede, Talkmore (15 March 2018). "The legal and institutional architecture of the Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area". tralac Discussion. trade law centre. Retrieved 2018-03-28.
  15. Uwiringiyimana, Clement (March 21, 2018). "Nigeria keen to ensure Africa trade bloc good for itself: president". Reuters.
  16. Giles, Chris (March 22, 2018). "44 African countries agree free trade agreement, Nigeria yet to sign". CNN.
  17. Caroline Dommen, Kimberley Burnett, Chris Changwe Nshimbi and James Thuo Gathii.
  18. Report: the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) in a human rights perspective
  19. Building a Sustainable and Inclusive Continental Free Trade Area - Nine Priority Recommendations from a Human Rights Perspective
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