Experts from the African Union Commission (AUC), supported by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), met on the sidelines of the 14th session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which was held from 17 to 22 July in Kenya, to work on the draft text of a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) Agreement.
This followed a decision by the 27th African Union Summit which was held in Rwanda to negotiate the CFTA, based on a template that provides room for wider consultation of stakeholders in national forums. The template agreement would also ensure efficiency in the CFTA negotiations, allowing the tight deadline of 2017 to be met.
The template will also provide a pan-African approach to the negotiations, differentiating this continental milestone from the ‘business as usual’ approach and limited ambition. In particular, it will facilitate the engagement of all African countries on a level playing field by taking the CFTA process to the capitals and stakeholders on the ground.
The UNCTAD 14 saw experts offering a plethora of insights, including why extractive industries' policy should ensure their revenues are used to particularly "transform the lives of those in the local area where the extraction is taking place"; why regional integration among African countries grows innovation, which enhances competition; and, how boosting agricultural productivity could bring about transformational effects for the continent.
The CFTA, which is expected to be in place by October 2017, will bring together fifty-four 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.