Intra-African Free Trade Agreement Delayed Over Arabic Union & Covid Issues

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The implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has been pushed back from its original intended start of July 1 this year.  AfCFTA is a free trade area which, as of 2018, includes 28 countries and was created by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement among 54 of the 55 African Union nations. The free trade area is the largest in the world in terms of the number of participating countries since the formation of the World Trade Organisation. It was brokered with significant encouragement from Beijing. The AfCTFA covers an area worth over US$3 trillion in GDP and eliminates tariffs on 90 percent of goods traded across the continent. Over 1.2 billion African consumers will be impacted by the agreement.

Delays over AfCFTA implementation have largely been caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has hit the African continent hard. This has further impacted on delays to arrangements in ratifications and financial agreements.  Louis Yaw Afful, Executive Director of the AfCFTA policy network has stated that “We need 22 countries to ratify or deposit their instruments of ratification. However, that is not enough. Two thirds of the 54 countries have done that, and we are here, talking about those who have signed. But those who have not ratified, the Arab Maghreb Union, also form a group which will finance the union. We need all of them because they wouldn’t benefit from a deal whose treaty they haven’t yet ratified.”

The other issue, he noted, is that for members who are not yet full members, need to submit their schedules of specific commitments on trade in services, in line with agreed modalities. The schedules of specific commitments from each AfCFTA state will effectively reflect the single African services market intended by the Protocol.

AU member states must prepare a schedule of specific commitments which outline what specific treatment each country guarantees to provide to the other.

A new proposed date of January 1 2021 has been mentioned, however the expected administrative work still required to push the deal through may be delayed further. If so, Beijing and to some extent Moscow and Delhi may be called upon to push matters to the intended conclusion.

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