Towards Africa's own mega-regional: The CFTA

12 February 2016

The first negotiating session of the Continental Free Trade Area negotiations will take place later this month, the Commissioner for Trade and Industry of the African Union Commission has announced. This first set of negotiations will lay the groundwork for upcoming substantive negotiations throughout this year until 2017, the indicative deadline for the establishment of a Continental FTA across Africa.

The Tripartite FTA, a stepping stone bringing together Africa’s three major regional economic communities in preparation for the CFTA, was signed into force in June of last year. A week later the African Union summit formally launched negotiations for the CFTA at its meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa on 15 June.

The TFTA and CFTA demonstrate the inclination of African governments to rival mega-regional agreements that have taken over the global trade playing field. The continued proliferation of regional trade agreements (RTAs) emerged formally as a concern among WTO members during the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference , with their final ministerial declaration including language reaffirming “the need to ensure that [RTAs] remain complementary to, not a substitute for, the multilateral trading system.”

 As Africa endeavours to advance its regional integration agenda, a number of challenges must be addressed in order to realise economic and development opportunities that would arise from a fully integrated African market. African stakeholders agree that a successful negotiation and implementation of the CFTA agreement as a modern 21st century trade pact is an important requirement to achieve economic transformation and generate sustainable development outcomes.

For now, several regional integration initiatives still operate alongside each other often with overlapping membership. Notwithstanding these developments, structural impediments such as infrastructure constraints and behind-the border issues persist. Readers will find further on in this issue that developing sustainable infrastructure could play a critical part in connecting together African economies.

Also in this edition, we shed light on the gender dimension of global value chains. Demographics are changing on the African continent, and growing numbers of citizens want to participate actively in their growing economies. The African population, including women moving into the workforce seeking employment and training, could find opportunities if firms operate under gender-equalizing policies, analysed one article of this edition.

Next month we will publish a special edition including analyses on building a sustainable way forward for Africa at WTO.

As usual, we welcome your substantive feedback and contributions. Write to us at bridgesafrica@ictsd.ch.

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