AfCFTA enters into force; Phase II on investment, competition, IPRs to last through 2020–2021

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) entered into force on May 30, 2019, with the first phase of the deal taking effect for 24 countries. An extraordinary summit on the trade agreement is planned for July 7, 2019 in Niamey, Niger, while Phase II negotiations on intellectual property rights (IPRs), investment and competition policy are expected to take at least another year.

According to the African Union (AU) Commission, as of early June there have been 24 instruments of ratification deposited for the AfCFTA. The minimum for entry into force was 22. Of the AU’s 55 countries, 52 have signed the agreement, with the exceptions being Benin, Eritrea and Nigeria.

The AfCFTA aims to establish “a single market for goods, services, facilitated by movement of persons in order to deepen the economic integration of the African continent,” according to its final text. The agreement also states as an objective the “sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development, gender equality and structural transformation of the State Parties.”

Other objectives include eventually developing a customs union spanning the continent’s countries; slashing tariffs and removing non-tariff barriers; and improving intra-country cooperation in investment, IPR, customs and trade facilitation, competition policy and other trade-related areas.

The text now in force does not yet include tariff schedules for goods, nor does it have completed schedules for services, which are both still under negotiation.

As part of the Phase II negotiations, the countries involved are now looking to negotiate protocols on investment, competition and intellectual property rights. Further details on what may feature in those documents may become clearer after the terms of reference for the related working groups are issued. Expert meetings on the investment protocol were held in November 2018 and February 2019.

Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou recommended to the AU earlier this year that they extend to June 2020 a previous January 2020 deadline for concluding negotiations on the investment, competition and IPR protocols. The AU Assembly subsequently said that the draft legal text for those protocols should be submitted by January 2021 for the assembly’s adoption.