Briefing Paper

Unpacking the Significance of African Continental Free Trade Area for Africa and its People

With free trade under attack in much of the developed world, Africa is forging a new path for itself to foster sustainable wealth and development for the continent. 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 AfCFTA consists of a framework agreement for its establishment and also the Protocol on Trade in Goods and Trade in Services, and the Protocol on Rules and Procedures on the Settlement of Disputes. These developments come on the back of 10 rounds of AfCFTA negotiations concluded in December 2017, with the 11th round underway in May 2018 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The AfCFTA signals the beginning of a new chapter for mega-regional trade relations on the African continent and enhanced efforts at deepening trade and regional integration. This paper gives a snapshot of developments building up to the signing of the AfCFTA and examines the status of the AfCFTA as African governments move forward in their attempt to establish a continent-wide free trade area (FTA) to boost the productivity of their economies and shift the composition and direction of foreign direct investment flows into Africa. However, the big question is whether unpacking the AFCFTA is really significant for Africa and its people and if this effort will also elevate the competitiveness of African economies.