Occasional Paper

Can the African Continental Free Trade Area Offer a New Beginning for Trade in Africa?

On 21 March 2018, AU leaders met in Rwanda to finalise the signing of a new trade agreement creating the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The inauguration of the AfCFTA reflects a milestone for future continental unity, regional integration and deeper economic ties. However,
questions remain as to whether African leaders will be able to successfully implement the free trade area, especially given that a lack of political will, technical expertise amongst relevant stakeholders and financial constraints have plagued most continental and regional efforts towards deeper intra-African trade thus far. This paper provides a snapshot of the negotiations that preceded the signing of the AfCFTA and examines the status of the AfCFTA as African governments move forward in their goal to establish a continent-wide free trade area. It identifies some of the benefits that should flow from a successfully implemented AfCFTA, while also examining some of the difficulties that might hinder or slow down its implementation. In addition, the paper identifies potential blind spots that could hinder deeper regional integration and trade facilitation efforts across Africa.