Africa has moved an inch closer to realising the dream of a continent with a free trade area despite persisting stumbling blocks, if the third African ministers of trade meeting held in Niger last week is to be scrutinised.
With the CFTA, Africa is aiming to create a single continental market for goods and services. The single market is intended at having free movement of business persons and investments. This is then earmarked to pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union and the African customs union.
The first aspect was that in order to kick-start the substantive negotiations they needed to have member states agree on how they are going to go about liberalising tariffs on the continent.
The second aspect was about doing the same for trade in services because there are two agreements, trade in goods and trade in services. They also considered whether the schedule of meetings is sufficient or not to be able to achieve the December 2017 deadline.
The CFTA is, however, facing challenges such as technical standards that vary from country to country and custom procedures, which delay goods. There are some countries or regions that have advanced to the level of custom unions and these have no custom duties among themselves. But some countries are not even part of free trade areas. Regional free trade areas is the core component of the CFTA.
AUC’s department of trade and industry also came out to say that the department was not being pressured by the heads of state and government to have CFTA agreement by December 2017.
The Commission has different phases of the negotiations. There was a preparatory phase, which was concluded when the negotiations were launched in June 2015. Since last June, the Commission has now been in the negotiations phase.
They would achieve the deadline at the end of this year, have that process of signature and ratification moved forward because all countries had to do that. But simultaneously in 2018 the Commission already had a work programme to continue to negotiate the remaining items.