By Jacob Kumenda
Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a continent-wide free trade agreement whose main objective includes the creation of a single market for goods and services in order to deepen the economic integration of the African continent. Kenya was one of first two African countries, to deposit its instruments of ratification of AfCFTA in 2018, demonstrating commitment to the landmark free trade agreement.
The AfCFTA framework was signed by 44 African countries, during the 10th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union held on the 21st of March 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda with the express goal of creating a single continental market for goods, services and investments.
The AfCFTA will establish a single liberalized market that will spur industrialization, infrastructural development, economic diversification and trade across the continent that is home to more than 1.2 billion people. The pact also seeks to promote industrial development through diversification, regional value chain development, agricultural development and food security.
In principle, the implementation of the AfCFTA will pave the way for a rapid dismantling of such impediments to cross-border trade. Alongside the removal of tariff barriers, the AfCFTA will also focus attention on outstanding nontariff barriers (NTBs), an important step toward increased trade in the region as studies consistently show that NTBs constrain intra-regional trade as much as or even more than tariff barriers.
The signatory State parties are expected to progressively liberalize trade in services. Under the agreement, African countries will establish a mechanism for the settlement of disputes concerning their rights and obligations.
East Africa will continue to face a number of challenges, including one shared by all countries on the continent: the need to rapidly finalize the tariff offers and outstanding negotiations on the rules of origin as well as the schedules on services trade offers. This shared challenge will be particularly tough as the negotiations in areas like services and those in phase II such as competition and intellectual property policies will inevitably be quite complex and highly technical.
To move forward decisively with AfCFTA implementation, East Africa needs to be better integrated both internally and with the wider African economy. However, it would be preferable, wherever possible, that national policy is aligned and that the regional blocks move together.
By reenergizing existing commitments, such as those attained through COMESA and the EAC, or those envisaged under the Tripartite Agreement between SADC, COMESA, and the EAC, the AfCFTA will provide the perfect framework to achieve that goal.
Jacob Kumenda is a consumer rights advocate at Consumer Grassroots Association. With key focus in ensuring consumers have information enable them make informed choices, I do write on different topics concerning consumers. You can reach him via: firstname.lastname@example.org
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