Contrary to high expectations among Africa’s business community over the impending take off of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), there are indications that necessary modalities are not yet in place for the implementation of the trade agreement. This was made known by the AfCFTA Secretary-General who disclosed that it might take a while to reap the meaningfulness of the agreement.  Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Secretariat has said that the full implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will be a long journey as Africa needs the right equipment for customs authorities at the border to facilitate the fast and efficient trade which goes into effect on January 1.

Mr. Mene said the 33 nations have agreed to ratify the agreement; however, many lack the customs and infrastructure to fully implement continental free trade. “It’s going to take us a very long time,” he said.

“If you don’t have the roads, if you don’t have the right equipment for customs authorities at the border to facilitate the fast and efficient transit of goods . . . if you don’t have the infrastructure, both hard and soft, it reduces the meaningfulness of this agreement,” he added.

Mr. Mene revealed that the purpose of the agreement is to move Africa from the “colonial commodity export economic model”, and use tariffs as a tool for industrial development.

“We want to move Africa away from this colonial economic model of perpetually being an exporter of primary commodities for processing elsewhere,” he said. “We want to stop approaching tariffs as a tool for revenue. We want tariffs to be a tool for industrial development.”

He cited bureaucratic challenges in the continent that might hinder tariff-free trade, noting Ethiopia’s decision to ban foreign investors from its financial services, which contravenes AfCFTA rules.

“I’m not saying countries must rush to dispute settlement. All I’m saying is that, if they do, the jurisprudence will bring clarity to the body of trade law that we’ve developed in the form of this agreement,” he said.

He added that AfreximBank is working to implement a continental trading platform to enable smaller businesses trade efficiently in the continent without currency difficulties.

Mr. Mene warned that the AfCFTA created some losers and not enough winners and said there might be backlash to free trade in the continent.

“Often in trade agreements the big winners are the already industrialised countries and the big corporations who can access the new markets literally overnight,” he said.


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