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Opinions of Thursday, 20 August 2020

Columnist: Martinson Yeboah Mintah

Dear AU, what is next after AfCFTA?

The AfCTA Secretariat was commissioned by President Akufo-Addo on August 16, 2020 The AfCTA Secretariat was commissioned by President Akufo-Addo on August 16, 2020

On August 16, 2020, Ghanaians and Africans witnessed a major milestone in the step towards the implementation of one of African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 flagship projects, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Ghana won the bid to host the permanent secretariat of the AfCFTA project. To that effect, the AfCFTA secretariat was commissioned and handed over by the president of Ghana to the chairperson of the AU Commission and the Secretary-General of the AfCFTA secretariat.

This is one of its kind for a Pan-African project to be fast-tracked with its implementation since its conceptualization during the 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) in January 2012, which adopted the decision to establish a free trade area by 2017.

However, the Agreement establishing the AfCFTA was adopted in March 2018 with protocols on trade in goods. By March 2019, the Agreement entered into force for operationalization and for all processes leading to the commencement of the Pan-African project.

The broad objective of the AfCFTA is to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, paving the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs.

Additionally, the AfCFTA is expected to enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through exploitation of opportunities for scale production, continental market access and better reallocation of resources.

By creating a single African market for goods and services for 1.3 billion people and an expected increase of combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of more than $2.5 trillion dollars, the African Continental Free Trade Area is a promise to fulfil the dream of the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
Undoubtedly, the AfCFTA conceptualization from the blueprint of the African Economic Community Agreement is also in itself an upgrade of the best practices and the economic trading lessons taken from the European Union’s (EU) establishment of its common market since 1962.

The challenge the AU and the AfCFTA secretariat has to address is the Dispute and Settlement protocols and regimes that are foreseeable in this trade agreement. A highly responsive and respectable settlement system will sweep over doubts and naysayers in the trade value-chain. Hence, the AU must resolve to complete all negotiations on the phases of the AfCFTA Operational modules of setting up an open database for Member States to upload their initial tariffs offers, create an accessible dashboard for AU Trade Observatory, and offer a transparent Digital Payment system and the elimination of the Non-Tariff Barriers.

Another is to complement negotiations on Member States who are yet to ratify the Protocol/Instrument for the AfCFTA Agreement. With the 55 Members States of AU, the minimum ratification threshold of 22 Members States may not be enough to realize the full complement of the AfCFTA. 27 Member States have not ratified the protocol on AfCFTA, including Africa’s biggest economic powerhouse, Nigeria.

Intra-Africa trading is about 15% Africa as compared to its trade with Europe (67%), North America (48%), Asia (58%), and Latin America (20%). That means that Member States may have pre-existing Agreements and mirrors of legislation of Agreements with Third Parties of the other regional blocs that will be inimical to the implementation of the AfCFTA as intended. Concerns are that AU Member States and their trading partners may be negotiating or renegotiating their bilateral and investments Agreements with the Third Parties, which is against the letter and spirit of the Nouakchott Declaration and may jeopardize the AfCFTA.

AU has greatly been influence by the work of civil society organizations and professional associations by their researches, education, advocacy and criticisms on the functions of the union. AfCFTA must allow CSOs and professional organizations play active role in the implementation tracking and performance evaluations by independent bodies in order to resolve bottlenecks and better harness the resourceful dividends drawn on the vibrant intra-continental trading opportunities to sustain growth, economic development and integration of businesses and persons transacting the AfCFTA offers.

With all the attention and attraction given to the operationalization of the AfCFTA project, it is however also important that the AU does not become complacent by leaving other impending flagship projects in the First Ten-Years Implementation Plan of the AU Agenda 2063. The first review of the performance of the 10-years agenda is 32%. This is a fail grade for the continent’s zeal to fuse into the global space of combined and accelerated efforts of realizing Work Programmes and Action Plans. What is next after AfCFTA?

In anyways, AUDC-NEPAD, AUC, RECs and Member States, CSOs and all well-meaning Pan-Africanists who believe in the African dream deserve a big push in realizing the programmes and projects that contribute immensely to the aspiration of Africa’s integration, prosperity and peace.