Experts gather in Addis Ababa to discuss African free trade area

Experts from the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) recently participated in the 5th meeting of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) Negotiating Forum that was hosted by the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa.

The forum, held from March 1 to 4, was preceded by an orientation workshop meant to equip CFTA negotiators as they consider and finalize draft modalities for negotiations for tariffs and services that will be included in the CFTA.

Commissioner for Trade and Industry at the AU, Ms. Fatima Haram Acyl, said she was confident that by the end of 2017, national traditional borders will be less important following the establishment of the CFTA

She commended the ECA and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for providing technical assistance to the CFTA negotiations and analytical studies which she said had contributed immensely to achievements of CFTA so far.

The CFTA, which is expected to be in place by October 2017, will bring together 54 African countries with a combined population of more than one billion people and a combined gross domestic product of more than US $3.4 trillion.

With the CFTA, African leaders aim to, among other things, create a single continental market for goods and services, free movement of business persons and investments and expand intra-African trade. The CFTA is also expected to enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise levels.

Members States agreed in last week’s forum to liberalize between 85-95 % of their tariff lines over a period of 5-10 years. They also agreed to allow for flexibilities through exclusion and sensitive lists to accommodate countries that may face challenges during liberalization.

Reports of the technical working groups on technical barriers to trade and non-tariff barriers, sanitary and phytosanitary measures rules of origin, trade in services and customs procedures were tabled and discussed during the Negotiating Forum.

The African Union Commission presented the CFTA Template Agreement which was welcomed by Member States as a basis for text-based negotiations. A bottom-up approach was agreed for further technical work on the draft text through technical working groups which will report to the next meeting of the Negotiating Forum also in Addis Ababa in June.

A meeting of African Ministers of Trade will be held soon after the 6th meeting of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) Negotiating Forum.

The meeting was attended by senior trade officials from Member states, trade experts from the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), the African Trade Policy Centre of the ECA, UNCTAD and the African Development Bank (AfDB).