In supporting and participating in the organisation of this regional multistakeholder policy dialogue on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), ICTSD aimed at filling important knowledge gaps around the agreement’s implementation and phase 2 negotiations commencing in August 2018. In particular, this covered areas such as e-commerce, investment facilitation, competition, and intellectual property as well as gender equality.
The dialogue created an open and inclusive space for debate on the substance and form of the AfCFTA. Discussions assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the AfCFTA process and put forward recommendations intended to facilitate its optimal implementation in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region and identify effective paths forward for the next phase of negotiations.
- Rules of origin: it will be important to clearly and accurately define the criteria that will enable the identification of products originating from within the regional space. The meeting recommended that negotiators adopt flexible rules of origin with a view of ensuring priority access for African companies to the continental market and so that countries can develop their productive capacities and create regional and continental value chains.
- Sensitive and excluded products: consensus must be reached on sensitive products and also an explicit determination of the products excluded from the free trade area.
- Different levels of development: while embracing an ambitious agenda of regional integration, the varying socioeconomic realities, industrialisation needs, and structural deficits across countries and regions need to be taken into consideration.
- Participation: the lack of broad and inclusive consultations with all relevant stakeholders at national and regional levels has been a major deficiency that has driven legitimate concerns expressed by actors in many countries regarding the trade deal’s outcomes.
- Timelines: in some instances, accelerated negotiations and tight deadlines have not allowed for proper analyses and evaluations to be carried out in order to formulate informed and shared positions – including in relation to political economy considerations.
- Regional Economic Communities (RECs): the AfCFTA must be designed as an instrument to strengthen the achievements of the RECs. It was recommended that ECOWAS countries should preserve the integrity of the customs union, in particular by preventing members from making commitments or implementing the AfCFTA individually and/or outside of their regional obligations.
- Coherence with external commitments: Participants agreed that it was important to seize the opportunity of the AfCFTA negotiations to review a number of existing agreements between African countries and regions with their external partners, in particular the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) with the European Union, and to revise certain protocols and agreements intra-regional where necessary;
The dialogue was initiated by a group of regional and international organisations, and actors, including the African Center for Trade, Integration and Development (Enda CACID), the United Nations Institute for Economic Development and Planning (IDEP), the Third World Network Africa (TWN Africa), the International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), and the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF). The Commissions of the African Union, ECOWAS, and ECCAS, the OSIWA Foundation, and GIZ provided technical and financial support.
A full meeting report prepared by Enda Cacid is available in English and in French.
Attendance was by invitation only.