African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat to commence in January 2021

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat has rescheduled its commencement of the implementation of the pan African free trade agreement to January 2021.

African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)

This is due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected the world and has caused many countries to close their borders as part of measures to curb the spread of the virus.

The Secretary-General of AfCFTA, Wamkele Mene, said member states must complete negotiations on trade tariffs and other protocols under the AfCFTA within the next six months.

The Secretariat indicated that the AfCFTA can be implemented only after the next scheduled Summit – an Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of States – which falls on 2nd January 2021.

It is expected that phase one operational instruments will be approved at the summit and subsequently pave the way for the start of duty-free trading.

Phase one operational instruments include Rules of Origin, which will indicate the eligibility of goods to be traded under AfCFTA; modalities such as protection of infant industries; and an online negotiating forum to enable member States to spearhead the success of the policy.

The remaining are an online mechanism for monitoring and eliminating non-tariff barriers; an AfCFTA mobile application for businesses including digital payments system for goods and services; a Pan-African payment and settlement system; and dashboard of the AU Trade Observatory, all of which are expected to enhance the implementation of the agreement.

The implementation of AfCFTA demands that member states liberalize at least 97% of their tariff lines and 90% of imports.

Currently, the AfCFTA Secretariat has ordered member countries not to take duties on 40 specific goods such as soap, disinfectant, and personal protective equipment (PPEs) among others that would help curb the spread of coronavirus.

The continental free-trade area would be the world’s largest economic free trade zone, adjudged by spatial size and population.

It is expected to increase intra-African trade from the current 12% of total trade by African countries, to 52% by 2023.

But trade experts have said that the pandemic could make the 52% target unachievable within the set period.

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