The African Union (AU) Commission has approved the duty‑free trading of goods under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, starting on 1 January 2021. The decision to commence was made on 5 December during an AU virtual summit.
Cyril Ramaphosa, the current AU Chair and South African President said that the AfCFTA is expected to improve intra‑African trade, boost industrialisation and competitiveness, create regional value chains and help in job creation.
Those countries not prepared for trading under AfCFTA rules from January must still ratify their AfCFTA agreements and submit tariff offers by 30 June 2021. Currently, all of Africa’s states, except Eritrea, have signed onto the AfCFTA; 34 have so far ratified it; but only 10 countries have so far both ratified it and submitted tariff offers: these countries are Chad, the Republic of Congo, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eswatini, Gabon, Mauritius, Namibia, Sao Tome and Principe, and South Africa.
The AU summit also set 30 June 2021 as the deadline for finalising negotiations on the rules of origin for the remaining 19% of tariff lines not yet agreed upon. The same deadline also holds for countries to submit their offers for liberalising trade in business services, communications, finance, tourism and transport; with offers on other outstanding service sectors to be submitted by 31 December 2021. The leaders called for member nations to prioritise liberalising the health and education service sectors, due to the demands created by the current Covid-19 pandemic.
Ramaphosa also urged the AU to consider establishing a Protocol on Women in Trade, to give African women more access to trade opportunities. AfCFTA Secretary‑General Wamkele Mene said women, young Africans, and small and medium enterprises should be at the centre of AfCFTA’s implementation to make it inclusive; and to ensure shared growth across the continent.