The 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2012, adopted a decision to establish a Continental Free Trade Area by an indicative date of 2017. The Summit also endorsed the Action Plan on Boosting Intra-Africa Trade (BIAT) which identifies seven priority action clusters: trade policy, trade facilitation, productive capacity, trade related infrastructure, trade finance, trade information, and factor market integration.
African leaders held an Extraordinary Summit on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) from 17-21 March 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda, during which the Agreement establishing the AfCFTA was presented for signature, along with the Kigali Declaration and the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Right to Residence and Right to Establishment. In total, 44 out of the 55 AU member states signed the consolidated text of the AfCFTA Agreement, 47 signed the Kigali Declaration and 30 signed the Protocol on Free Movement.
The AfCFTA will bring together all 55 member states of the African Union covering a market of more than 1.2 billion people, including a growing middle class, and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of more than US$3.4 trillion. In terms of numbers of participating countries, the AfCFTA will be the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organization. Estimates from the Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) suggest that the AfCFTA has the potential both to boost intra-African trade by 52.3 percent by eliminating import duties, and to double this trade if non-tariff barriers are also reduced.
UNECA’s African Trade Policy Centre (ATPC) and the African Union Commission (AUC) have stated: “AfCFTA is an opportunity for development in Africa. But it must be wielded by private enterprise. Through doing so, businesses can benefit from the great opportunities that the continent has to offer, and contribute to its sustainable growth and development.”
The main objectives of the AfCFTA are to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Customs Union. It will also expand intra-African trade through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization and facilitation and instruments across the RECs and across Africa in general. The AfCFTA is also expected to enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through exploitation of opportunities for scale production, continental market access and better reallocation of resources.
The establishment of the AfCFTA and the implementation of the BIAT Action Plan provide a comprehensive framework to pursue a developmental regionalism strategy. The former is conceived as a time bound project, whereas BIAT is continuous with concrete targets to double intra-African trade flows from January 2012 and January 2022.
- Decision on Boosting Intra-African Trade and Fast Tracking the Continental Free Trade Area (PDF, 34 KB)
- Declaration on Boosting Intra-African Trade and The Establishment of a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) (PDF, 92 KB)
- Boosting Intra-African Trade: Issues Affecting Intra-African Trade, Proposed Action Plan for Boosting Intra-African Trade and Framework for the fast-tracking of a CFTA (PDF, 928 KB)
Synthesis Paper on Boosting Intra-African Trade and Fast Tracking the Continental Free Trade Area (PDF, 72 KB)
The Continental Task Force (CTF) on the CFTA, which met for the first time in October 2013, is tasked with coordinating actions between the African Union Commission and the Regional Economic Communities to ensure that the CFTA negotiations are conducted within the agreed timelines. Negotiations for the establishment of the CFTA were officially launched in June 2015 in Johannesburg, South Africa. H.E Mahamadou Issoufou, President of the Republic of Niger, was mandated by the 28th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government in January 2017 to champion the process of the CFTA. A Progress Report on the CFTA negotiations was received by the 29th AU Assembly in July 2017.
The CFTA Negotiating Forum (CFTA-NF) has held eight meetings towards the finalisation of the draft modalities for negotiations on both tariff liberalisation and trade in services. Four meetings of the CFTA Technical Working Groups were held in 2017: in February (Kigali), April (Nairobi), August (Durban) and November (Abuja), giving trade experts the opportunity to provide technical inputs in the draft CFTA texts. The 8th Negotiating Forum arrived at three outcomes on the CFTA: Framework Agreement on the CFTA, Protocol on Goods, and Protocol on Trade in Services and a built-in agenda. The three documents were formally approved and adopted by African Trade Ministers in Niamey, Niger in December 2017.
The fifth meeting of African Union Ministers of Trade (AMOT), held in Kigali, Rwanda on 8-9 March 2018, adopted the legal instruments constituting the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), namely (a) the Agreement Establishing the AfCFTA, (b) the Protocol on Trade in Goods, (c) the Protocol on Trade in Services, and (d) the Protocol on Rules and Procedures for the Settlement of Disputes. Legal scrubbing of the documents was concluded during the Ministerial Meeting of the Second Extra-Ordinary Session of the Specialized Technical Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs held on 14 and 15 March ahead of the official signing ceremony which took place during the 10th Extraordinary Summit of the Assembly of the AU on 21 March 2018 in Kigali.
Following the submission of tariff concession schedules for trade in goods by each State Party (including the particular 90 percent of products that are to be liberalised, list of sensitive products requiring an extended time period for liberalisation, and list of excluded products that are to be temporarily exempted from liberalisation), initial market access offers on trade in services, and development of a list of product-specific rules of origin (part of the built-in agenda), the AfCFTA will then enter into force after the deposition of the 22nd instrument of ratification with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission.
- Update on the outcome of the Third Meeting of the CFTA Technical Working Groups - Durban, September 2017 (PDF, 234 KB)
- Update on the Continental Free Trade Area negotiations: Presentation by Mr. Prudence Sebahizi, Chief Technical advisor on the CFTA and Head of CFTA Negotiations Support Unit, AUC - 2017 African Prosperity Conference (PDF, 3.27 MB)
- Fast-tracking the Continental Free Trade Area: Regional Economic Communities (RECs) as Building Blocks: Paper by Mr. Prudence Sebahizi, African Union Commission - November 2016 (PDF, 811 KB)
- Decision to establish a High Level Panel of five eminent persons to champion the fast tracking of the CFTA - 27th AU Assembly, July 2016 (PDF, 293 KB)
- Decision on the Launch of Continental Free Trade Area Negotiations - Johannesburg, June 2015 (PDF, 165 KB)
- Declaration on the Launch of The Negotiations for the Establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) - Johannesburg, June 2015 (PDF, 166 KB)
- Draft Framework, Road Map and Architecture For Fast-tracking the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) (PDF, 117 KB)
- Decision to convene a Dedicated Session of Senior Officials to develop a Road Map towards the launch of the CFTA negotiations - 26th AU Executive Council, January 2015 (PDF, 449 KB)
- Decision on the Report of the High Level African Trade Committee (HATC) on Trade Issues - 24th AU Assembly, January 2015 (PDF, 312 KB)
- Update on the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) and Work Plan for the AU Commission for the Preparatory Phase of the CFTA Negotiations, 2014 (PDF, 204 KB)
- Decision on the Report of the Extraordinary Session of the AU Conference of Ministers of Trade (CAMOT) - April 2014 (PDF, 98 KB)
- Decision on the Report of the High Level African Trade Committee (HATC) on Trade Issues - 22nd AU Assembly, January 2014 (PDF, 165 KB)
Draft objectives and guiding principles for negotiating the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) - 2nd Meeting of the CFTA Continental Task Force (CTF), April 2013 (PDF, 1.34 MB)
Partnering with governments by business is essential to ensure and facilitate investment in the accompanying measures necessary to complement the AfCFTA. This includes intra-African trade infrastructure as well as supplying trade finance, trade information, and logistics services. Such provisions will help businesses recognize and realize the trading opportunities available through AfCFTA. Additionally, more active involvement of the private sector in terms of advocacy is required in order to ensure direct input into the AfCFTA negotiating institutions to ensure that the AfCFTA is shaped to assist the business community to trade in Africa.
Although an advocacy and communication strategy has been developed to ensure that there is a buy in from all stakeholders in the AfCFTA – the AUC, RECs, member states, civil society, parliamentarians, and the private sector – African civil society organisations have made several calls for citizens, workers, farmers, traders, producers, enterprises, and the private sector to participate more effectively in negotiations towards the AfCFTA to ensure their concerns and views are adequately reflected.
- Civil Society Advocacy around the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) Timeline 2016-2017 (PDF, 289 KB)
- Report: The Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) in Africa – A Human Rights Perspective - FES and UNECA, July 2017 (PDF, 597 KB)
- African Civil Society Statement on the Continental Free Trade Agenda at Africa Trade Week 2016 - November 2016 (PDF, 61 KB)
Déclaration de la société civile africaines préalablement à la Semaine du commerce africain sur la Zone de libre-échange continentale - November 2016 (PDF, 60 KB)
The CFTA We Want: African Civil Society Demands at Africa Trade Week - November 2016 (PDF, 55 KB)
- Scoping study: Designing the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) – An African Human Rights Perspective - Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, May 2016 (PDF, 1.74 MB)
- Report: Colloquium on Africa’s Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) – Internal coherence and external threats - TWN-Africa and ATPC, March 2016 (PDF, 849 KB)
- The CFTA: Elements, Expectations, Schedules and Challenges - Presentation by Prudence Sebahizi, CSOs Consultations in Accra, March 2016 (PDF, 4.46 MB)
Transparency, Consultation and Participation in the CFTA Negotiations in Africa: Recommendations from the Multi-Stakeholder Expert Workshop on a Potential Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) of the CFTA (2015-2017) (PDF, 283 KB)
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Research and analysis
tralac has been monitoring the AfCFTA negotiations with keen interest. Several papers, briefs and discussion notes have been published to encourage debate and inform government officials, policymakers, and interested stakeholders on key issues involved in the negotiation of Africa’s mega-FTA.
How will the AfCFTA be established and its Legal Instruments be implemented? - Discussion by Gerhard Erasmus
22 Mar 2018
How will the AfCFTA co-exist with other African Trade Arrangements? - Discussion by Gerhard Erasmus
22 Mar 2018
Launching the AfCFTA: Getting the Politics and the Expectations right - Discussion by Gerhard Erasmus
22 Mar 2018
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and non-tariff barriers (NTBs) - Discussion by Willemien Viljoen
22 Mar 2018
Trade in services and the AfCFTA: No service is an island - Discussion by Ashly Hope
15 Mar 2018
The legal and institutional architecture of the Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area - Discussion by Talkmore Chidede
15 Mar 2018
A gender responsive AfCFTA - Discussion by Ashly Hope
8 Mar 2018
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and other African Union initiatives for economic integration - Discussion by Talkmore Chidede
1 Mar 2018
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - Discussion by Willemien Viljoen
23 Feb 2018
Are Trade Remedies important for achieving the AfCFTA Goals? - Discussion by Gerhard Erasmus
23 Feb 2018
Africa should not ignore what happened in Buenos Aires - Discussion by Gerhard Erasmus
23 Feb 2018
The AfCFTA: It’s not just about the tariffs - Discussion by Ashly Hope
14 Feb 2018
The 30th AU Summit adopts decisions key to advancing Africa’s economic integration agenda - Discussion by Talkmore Chidede
1 Feb 2018
Investment policy landscape of the African Regional Economic Communities, Tripartite Free Trade Area and Continental Free Trade Area - Trade Brief by Talkmore Chidede
18 Oct 2017
The Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) policies of the African Regional Economic Communities, and the way forward for the CFTA - Trade Brief by Abrie du Plessis
7 Jun 2017
Towards the Continental Free Trade Area – opportunities for South Africa’s Industrial Policy Action Plan priority sectors in the Kenyan market - Working Paper by Taku Fundira
18 May 2017
Issues for CFTA negotiators to consider - Trade Brief by Ron Sandrey
22 Feb 2017
Services trade in Africa - Working Paper by Ron Sandrey
8 Feb 2017
Trade Remedies as part of the Continental Free Trade Area - Working Paper by Gerhard Erasmus
10 Sep 2015
How the CFTA could advance the Framework of the Abuja Treaty - Trade Brief by Gerhard Erasmus
10 Sep 2015
What is the Continental FTA Mandate? - Trade Brief by Gerhard Erasmus
3 Sep 2015
The new Principles for Negotiating the Continental FTA - Trade Brief by Gerhard Erasmus
1 Jul 2015
Suitable Mechanisms for Negotiating Trade in Services and Movement of Business Persons in the Continental Free Trade Area - Working Paper by J.B. Cronjé
1 Apr 2015
Market Access in Africa: A review of existing tariff structures and the road to a Continental Free Trade Area - Working Paper by Taku Fundira
4 Feb 2015
While tralac endeavours to list current legal instruments, we cannot accept responsibility or liability for any inaccuracies or omissions. The negotiation, ratification, implementation and/or modification of these instruments is an ongoing process and not always well-reported or updated by the relevant authorities. All documents are in English unless stated otherwise.