Following three and a half years of negotiation, the Agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was signed in Kigali on March 21, 2018, and rapidly entered force by May 30, 2019 when the 22 required ratifications were deposited with the chairperson of the African Union Commission. The total number of ratifications now stands at 29 and the total number of signatures at 54 – only one country is yet to sign the agreement.

The speedy ratification demonstrated strong political will and ownership of the AfCFTA by the leadership and people of Africa.

Africa as a bloc amounts to the 11th largest economy in the world, with a combined GDP of $3.4 trillion, and a combined population of 1.3 billion people. Africa is a young continent, with an average age of 19.7 years. It has 60 per cent of the world’s arable land and is 30 million square kilometres in total land area. This means that as a bloc, Africa is a large market that supports critical and transformational levels of investment and carries weight in international relations and engagements with other powers on the globe.

The AfCFTA is a modern 21st century free trade area, covering trade in both goods and services, as well as the flanking areas of investment, competition policy and intellectual property and aims to be a single market. The AfCFTA has a wide range of instruments that put in place a robust and comprehensive trade regime that facilitates trade through simplified and digitized documents and procedures; and will ensure benefits for youth, women and small to medium scale enterprises (SMEs) by prioritizing the products they trade for interventions. It will assist in fighting the covid-19 pandemic by promoting production and faster movement of personal protective equipment and medicines. Despite the pandemic, which is expected to result in a loss of 25 to 30 million jobs in Africa, the AfCFTA holds out good prospects as a growth pole for reviving the African economy which over the last three decades has grown above world averages and has had some of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Good progress has been made to start the AfCFTA, so that it delivers the promise of prosperity for the people of Africa. Operational instruments are in place, namely, the system for addressing non-tariff barriers, a Trade Observatory to provide market information to economic operators, a continental payment system to facilitate cross-border payment, a compensation facility to assist with any short term revenue losses, and a digital portal for Tariff Schedules which will show how free trade in goods and Schedules of Specific Commitments which will show how free trade in services will be. A dispute settlement mechanism is being operationalized so that any disputes that arise can be speedily, transparently and definitively resolved. Also, Member States have been urged to prepare national strategies for utilizing and benefiting from the AfCFTA. The Secretariat is operational, serving as the administrative and technical arm of the AfCFTA. 

H.E. Wamkele Mene, Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat.

For more information on the AfCFTA, visit https://au.int/en/cfta

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will be addressed and discussed during the TradeMalta webinar of November 13. To register, visit: https://bit.ly/37H1vh3

For export-related assistance, visit https://www.trademalta.org/

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