Africa: The African Continental Free Trade Area - More Hills to Climb

Apr 09, 2019 | New Times; All Africa

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AFTA) has garnered the required 22 ratifications for it to enter force, the latest ratification coming in on April 1, 2019 from The Gambia; just 11 days after the first anniversary of the signing of the Agreement on 21 March 2018 in Kigali. What was thought unthinkable has happened. It was the Icon Nelson Mandela who said, it always looks impossible until it is done.

He said also, that after climbing one great hill, you only realise you have more hills to climb. The real hard work now begins; that of Implementation, on which Africa doesn't have a very proud record. Besides, there is quite a bit of unfinished work to be done.

In addition to trade in goods, AFTA covers also services as well as innovation, competition and investment. Adding these areas was a stroke of genius, given the psychotic fear of these issues by many developing countries in international trade agreements particularly the World Trade Organisation.

However, way back in 2006, the African Ministers at a conference in Nairobi chaired by the then Kenyan Trade Minister Mukhisa Kituyi, now Secretary General of UNCTAD, took a fundamental decision to include these issues among programs for regional economic integration in Africa.

It all came together one day at the Africa Trade Forum, before AFTA negotiations started. The die was cast, and a certain old man took the podium. He called out to the 200 strong audience that it would be a huge wasted opportunity of a lifetime if services were left out of the Agreement, giving the example of the European Union where services sectors have provided the bulk of the integration agenda and benefits for the people.

Before that, at a working lunch of five protagonists who worked behind the scenes as influence- peddlers, the argument for excluding services as complex and controversial had been vigorously advanced by the very guys who had services excluded from the first phase of negotiations for the Tripartite Free Trade Area. The argument rang hollow this time round, and being without much support, it was abandoned. So, we have all agreed that services be proposed for inclusion in the first phase of AFTA negotiations, was the conclusion, as they went off in different directions to their various constituencies. Read more from All Africa.

The author is the Director of Trade and Customs at the COMESA Secretariat

 

Source: All Africa