Twelve months after the official start of trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, some commentators fear that the project is losing steam.
Despite the “fantastic surprise speed” of progress in 2020, “the AfCFTA seems to be losing the momentum it gained amongst African leaders at the very time its importance is recognised elsewhere,” says Carlos Lopes, professor in the Mandela School of Public Governance at the University of Cape Town.
“This apparent paradox has to be dissipated fast,” he warns.
Lopes argues that while the Covid19 pandemic is responsible for slower progress in getting the AfCFTA up and running, the real stumbling blocks lie in three elements that are eroding consensus:
- the never-ending discussion on the rules of origin, which is the intersection between trade and possible industrial policy;
- the interference of external partners pushing their agenda of divide and rule (with Kenya’s free trade deal with the US a case in point);
- a lack of capacity in the Secretariat to push the agenda, given its launch in the middle of the pandemic.
As of December 2021, 39 countries have deposited their instruments of ratification (ordered by date): Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Niger, Chad, Eswatini, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Namibia, South Africa, Congo Republic, Djibouti, Mauritania, Uganda, Senegal, Togo, Egypt, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, São Tomé and Príncipe, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Mauritius, Central African Republic, Angola, Lesotho, Tunisia, Cameroon, Nigeria, Malawi, Zambia, Algeria, Burundi and Tanzania.