African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) operational phase kicks off, with eyes on implementation and Phase II talks, including investment

The African Union formally kicked off the operational phase of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) during a high-level summit in Niger in early July 2019 that brought together heads of state and government from across the continent.

The trade agreement has been in force since late May 2019. The only member of the African Union that had not signed the accord at the time of this writing was Eritrea, given that Benin and Nigeria signed on during the July summit. The agreement has been ratified by 27 countries out of the 54 signatories.

Further negotiations are still planned for Phase II of the agreement, given that Phase I was primarily focused on areas such as goods and services trade, as well as dispute settlement. Those Phase II talks are expected to continue throughout 2020, with the next key milestone being the adoption of terms of reference for the working groups tasked with those processes.

Niger President Issoufou Mahamadou told the summit that “the optimization of the [AfCFTA’s] positive effects will be achieved only if the protocols already signed…are accompanied by agreements, currently being negotiated, on investment, competition and intellectual property.”

In the meantime, ensuring a smooth implementation of the first phase will be crucial, with United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed saying at the summit that the UN Is looking to help the AfCFTA’s parties take the necessary steps, including at the national level.

“We are committed to working with African institutions to mobilize the resources that will be required for full implementation of the [AfCFTA]. In the first instance, the African Regional Integration Trust Fund will support countries to mobilize resources to finance regional integration,” she said, highlighting the potential for funding from sources such as regional development banks and the Belt and Road Initiative.

Other officials, such as African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, similarly said that while the AfCFTA’s operational launch was an important milestone, much work remains to ensure a smooth rollout, including on developing the necessary infrastructure and securing more approvals of the AfCFTA protocol on facilitating the free movement of people within the continent’s borders.