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African free trade in focus at annual conference

2021-07-21  Staff Reporter

African free trade in focus at annual conference
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The African Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) has, in recent years, been a standing item at the Annual Conference of the Trade Law Centre (Tralac) based in South Africa. This year, it is again the case as the annual conference is, for the second year, a virtual event due to the global pandemic.

In a statement, Tralac, a public benefit organisation established in 2002 to develop technical expertise and capacity in trade governance across Africa, notes that for trade in goods to take place under this free trade area, negotiated tariff concessions and preferential rules of origin are required. 

“While notable progress has been made in the rules of origin negotiations, we are not there yet. But, once all offers of tariff concessions, that meet the agreed modalities, have been made, the negotiations process will start in earnest. An ‘interim arrangement’ to permit trade under the schedules of tariff offers, made by end of June 2021, may be agreed, but negotiated outcomes are essential for the AfCFTA,” reads the statement. 

Tralac, which was set up with the financial support of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), further notes that trade in services negotiations are also still underway, with a focus on commitments in the priority services sectors (financial, transport, communication, tourism and business services). 

“Healthcare services will be included along with other services later. Work on frameworks for regulatory cooperation is also progressing. Negotiations on investment and intellectual property rights have begun. Competition policy (also on the Phase 2 agenda) is important because anti-competitive practices that transcend national borders can undermine the benefits of the AfCFTA,” it said. 

This year’s conference, which commences on Friday, will also discuss protocols on digital trade (e-commerce) and women, youth and SMEs, which are also to be negotiated. 

“These are indispensable for the AfCFTA to support Africa’s inclusive development, then the implementation agenda has to be tackled. The AfCFTA is not only about boosting intra-Africa trade, but also holds dynamic benefits: larger, integrated markets; improved customs and border management; and improvements in trade governance more generally are perhaps even more important now to, for example, attract investment to support the development and diversification of Africa’s productive capacity and improving competitiveness.

Covid-19 makes the successful completion of the negotiations and the effective implementation of the AfCFTA that much more important now.”

This year’s Tralac Annual Conference will also consider some lessons from Covid-19, with organisers stating that in the first instance, this is a health crisis. 

“The third wave of Covid-19 is currently spreading across Africa, faster and with more devastating effect than the previous two waves. Covid-19 is a global pandemic and Africa is most vulnerable. However, Covid-19 is much more than a health crisis. It is a development crisis.  Extensive economic and social disruption requires structural transformation and new governance solutions. Building differently and diversifying for resilience to future shocks, including the climate crisis, is required. The immediate effects and longer-term implications of Covid-19 will inform our discussion at this year’s conference,” the statement concluded.


2021-07-21  Staff Reporter

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