Photograph — Brookings Institution

With Ethiopia’s decision to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) last week, the trade pact is just one country shy of implementation. For the agreement to take effect, 22 approvals are required and so far 21 countries have ratified their instruments.

Director of the Regional Integration and Trade Division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Stephen Karingi, revealed that the remaining items for discussion on the AfCFTA are competition, provisions for investment, intellectual property and e-commerce. More so, the protocols on goods, services and dispute settlement have been completed and their annexes will be ready by July.

The continental pact was launched during the March 2018 African Union Summit in Kigali, where it was signed by 44 states. Since then, eight more have signed. The exemptions are Eritrea, Benin, Nigeria and Tanzania.

However, signing the agreement does not yet establish the African free trade area. It will function as an umbrella to which protocols and annexes will be added. Once all documents are concluded and ratified by 22 states, the free trade area will formally exist.

To date, 16 countries have deposited their instruments of AfCFTA ratification with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission. While five others have received parliamentary approvals for ratification.

Which countries have ratified?

From Southern Africa, eSwatini (Swaziland), Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have ratified, while the AU has secured ratifications from Uganda, Kenya, Djibouti, Rwanda and Ethiopia in East Africa.

Egypt is the only northern African country with parliamentary approval to ratify the deal.

In Central Africa, Chad and the Republic of Congo have ratified while West Africa has the most ratifications including from Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Sierra Leone.

“The second phase of negotiations on the remaining clauses will begin soon,” We expect that the discussions will be concluded early 2021,” Karingi said.

Once it kicks off, AfCFTA aims to increase intra-African trade by 52 percent by the year 2022, remove tariffs on 90 percent of goods, liberalise services and tackle other barriers to intra-African trade, such as long delays at border posts.

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