SEATTLE — Since its proposal in 2012 at the 18th session of the African Union (AU) in Ethiopia, the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) has become an increasingly important strategy for inclusive growth and sustainable development in Africa. If continued to move forward, it would constitute the world’s largest free trade area with enormous economic impacts on not only its 54 member states in Africa, but also the international market.
The latest meetings from August 21st to September 1st brought together officials from the AU, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) to Durban, South Africa. The meetings focused on preparing legal provisions and considering inputs on annexes and appendices to the CFTA Agreement, before the Eighth Meeting of the CFTA Negotiating Forum this coming October.
The range of the discussion included legal and institutional affairs, non-tariff and technical barriers to trade, rules of origin, trade in services, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, customs procedures and trade remedies.
The CFTA hopes to create a single continental market for goods and services, alongside free movement of business peoples, investments, expansions within intra-African trade and better coordination throughout Africa. It will also facilitate competitiveness at industry and enterprise levels with larger demands for production, market access and reallocation of resources.
The proposal hopes to resolve challenges regularly faced from multiple, fragmented or overlapping memberships, markets and regional trade agreements. If properly launched, it will bring together 54 countries with more than one billion people and a combined gross domestic product of more than $3.4 trillion.
This free trade area would not only attract investments from international actors, but it would also provide employment opportunities for African youth and speed up all kinds of development in the continent by boosting trade. Such a large trade agreement is not new to the region — almost eight regional trade agreements already exist in Africa, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which established a free trade zone between 15 West African countries, as well as the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) which united 27 countries for a similar but non-all-inclusive free trade area in Africa.
Eight meetings of the CFTA Negotiating Forum (CFTA-NF) have been carried out so far, and meeting their 2017 deadline to launch the CFTA while still moving towards tangible and substantive results is extremely anticipated by the world. At the seventh meeting this past June in Niger, deliberations over committing to liberalize 90 percent of tariff lines, with remaining 10 percent of product lines designated as sensitive and open to tariff reductions and longer time frames, brought out a disagreement between CFTA members.
Hopefully disagreements can be resolved in time so that the CFTA Agreement can be adopted so Africa can generate larger economic returns for itself and its people.
– Zar-Tashiya Khan