African Continental Free Trade Area

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Map of the planned African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
  Ratifying parties
  Signed March 2018, not ratified
  Signed July 2018, not ratified

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)[1] is a free trade area, outlined in the African Continental Free Trade Agreement among 54 of the 55 African Union nations.[2] The free-trade area is the largest in the world in terms of participating countries since the formation of the World Trade Organization.[3]

The agreement was brokered by the African Union (AU) and was signed on by 44 of its 55 member states in Kigali, Rwanda on March 21, 2018.[4][5] The agreement initially requires members to remove tariffs from 90% of goods, allowing free access to commodities, goods, and services across the continent.[4] The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimates that the agreement will boost intra-African trade by 52 percent by 2022.[6] The proposal was set to come into force 30 days after ratification by 22 of the signatory states.[4] On April 2, 2019, The Gambia became the 22nd state to ratify the agreement,[7] and on April 29 the Saharawi Republic made the 22nd deposit of instruments of ratification; the agreement went into force on May 30 and entered its operational phase following a summit on July 7, 2019.[8]


Initial planning for the agreement began in 2013,[9] with negotiations held in 2015 via AU summits.[10]

The first negotiation forum was held in February 2016 and held eight meetings until the Summit in March 2018 in Kigali. From February 2017 on the technical working groups held four meetings, where technical issues were discussed and implemented in the draft. On 8–9 March 2018 the African Union Ministers of Trade approved the draft.[11]

At the extraordinary Summit of the Assembly of the African Union on March 21 in Kigali the Agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area was signed, along with the Kigali Declaration and the Protocol of Free Movement. Other countries who signed the Kigali declaration, including South Africa and Namibia, are expected to sign the agreement during the AU summit in July.[12]

Negotiations continued in 2018 with Phase II, including policies of investment, competition and intellectual property rights.[13] In January 2020, AU Assembly negotiations are envisaged to be concluded.[14]

South Africa, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Lesotho and Burundi have since signed the AfCFTA during the 31st African Union Summit in Nouakchott.[15]


Several institutions will be created when the AfCFTA comes into force. According to the results of Phase I negotiations the following institutions will be established to facilitate the implementation of the free trade area. As a result of Phase II negotiations more committees may be established via protocols.[16]

AfCFTA secretariat[edit]

The secretariat will be responsible for coordinating the implementation of the agreement and shall be an autonomous body within the AU system. Though it will have independent legal personality, it shall work closely with the AU Commission and receive its budget from the AU. The Council of Ministers responsible for trade will decide on the location of the headquarter, structure, role and responsibilities.[13]

Assembly of the African Union Heads of State and Government[edit]

The Assembly is the highest decision-making body. It is likely to meet during the AU Summits.[17]

Council of Ministers responsible for trade[edit]

The Council provides strategic trade policy oversight and ensures effective implementation and enforcement of the AfCFTA Agreement.[17]

Committee of Senior Trade Officials[edit]

The Committee of Senior Trade Officials implements the Council's decisions. The Committee is responsible for the development of programs and action plans for the implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement.[17]

Dispute Settlement Body[edit]

Its rules and procedures will be laid down in the Protocol on Dispute Settlement, which is to be negotiated.[13]


Several Committees will be established through protocols to assist with the implementation of specific matters. It is already agreed to establish committees for trade in goods, trade in services, on rules of origin, trade remedies, non-tariff barriers, technical barriers to trade and on sanitary and phytosanitary measures.[17]


The African Continental Free Trade Area did not come into effect until 22 of the signing countries ratified the agreement, which occurred in April 2019 when The Gambia became the 22nd country to ratify it.[18][19] As of July 2019, there are 27 ratifying countries and 54 signatories.[20][21][22]

Prospective members[edit]

Most AU member states signed the initial agreement, including:

Benin, Botswana, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, and Zambia did not sign the initial agreement.[23] President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari was particularly reluctant to join if it hurt Nigerian entrepreneurship and industry.[24] On July 7, 2019 Nigeria and Benin finally committed to signing the Africa free trade at the 12th extraordinary session of the assembly of the union on ACFTA; leaving Eritrea as the only nation out of the 55 African Union Member States not to sign up to the deal.[25][26][22] Eritrea did not sign up due to tensions with Ethiopia, but following the 2018 Eritrea–Ethiopia summit the AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry now expects Eritrea to sign the agreement.[27]

Human rights assessment[edit]

An interdisciplinary team[28] carried out a human rights assessment of the agreement as the negotiations were underway. This assessment was mandated by the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. The full report of its findings were published in July 2017.[29] So was a Policy Brief[30] which sets out its main recommendations was shared with African countries' officials during the following negotiating sessions.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Loes Witschge (March 20, 2018). "African Continental Free Trade Area: What you need to know". Al Jazeera.
  2. ^ "Summary of the key decisions and declarations of the 31st African Union Summit | African Union". Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  3. ^ Justina Crabtree (March 20, 2018). "Africa is on the verge of forming the largest free trade area since the World Trade Organization". CNBC.
  4. ^ a b c "Forty-four African countries sign a free-trade deal". The Economist. March 22, 2018.
  5. ^ "44 African nations sign pact establishing free trade area". Arab News. March 21, 2018. Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  6. ^ Witschge, Loes (March 20, 2018). "African Continental Free Trade Area: What you need to know". Al-Jazeera.
  7. ^ Abdi Latif Dahir (April 3, 2019). "Africa's historic free trade deal now has enough countries signed up to go into force". Quartz Africa.
  8. ^ "AfCFTA Agreement secures minimum threshold of 22 ratification as Sierra Leone and the Saharawi Republic deposit instruments". African Union. April 29, 2019.
  9. ^ "Meeting of the Continental Task force on the Continental free Trade area (CFTA), 17-18 October 2013, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia". African Union. October 18, 2013.
  10. ^ "The African Union Assembly launches the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) negotiations". African Union. June 17, 2015.
  11. ^ tralac, trade law centre. "African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Legal Texts and Policy Documents". Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  12. ^ "SA keen to sign agreement establishing AfCFTA". SAnews. March 26, 2018. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  13. ^ a b c "African Continental Free Trade Area - Questions & Answers" (PDF). African Union. March 15, 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 3, 2019. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  14. ^ "Decision on the draft agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)" (PDF). African Union. March 21, 2018.
  15. ^ "More countries sign the African free trade area agreement". The East African. Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  16. ^ Erasmus, Gerhard (March 22, 2018). "How will the AfCFTA be established and its Legal Instruments be implemented?". tralac Discussion. trade law centre. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  17. ^ a b c d Chidede, Talkmore (March 15, 2018). "The legal and institutional architecture of the Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area". tralac Discussion. trade law centre. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
  18. ^ Africa Free Trade Agreement Gets Last Ratification From Gambia, African Business Magazine
  19. ^ Miller, Joshua (April 6, 2019). "Africa in the news: African Continental Free Trade Agreement updates, Algeria's president resigns, and Vodacom Tanzania executives face criminal charges". Brookings. Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  21. ^ CENTRE, TRALAC TRADE LAW. "African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Legal Texts and Policy Documents". tralac. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  22. ^ a b Meldrum, Andrew. "African leaders to launch continent-wide free trade zone". AP News. Associated Press. Retrieved July 7, 2019.
  23. ^ Uwiringiyimana, Clement (March 21, 2018). "Nigeria keen to ensure Africa trade bloc good for itself: president". Reuters.
  24. ^ Giles, Chris (March 22, 2018). "44 African countries agree free trade agreement, Nigeria yet to sign". CNN.
  25. ^ AfricaNews (July 6, 2019). "Eritrea now sole outsiders of free trade deal as Nigeria, Benin sign up". Africanews. Retrieved July 7, 2019.
  26. ^ "Nigeria finally commits to signing the Africa free trade agreement". The South African. July 3, 2019. Retrieved July 7, 2019.
  27. ^ "Nigeria signs African free trade area agreement". BBC. July 7, 2019. Retrieved July 7, 2019.
  28. ^ Caroline Dommen, Kimberley Burnett, Chris Changwe Nshimbi and James Thuo Gathii.
  29. ^ Report: the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) in a human rights perspective. July 2017. ISBN 9783958618596.
  30. ^ Building a Sustainable and Inclusive Continental Free Trade Area - Nine Priority Recommendations from a Human Rights Perspective

External links[edit]