Private sector has key role to play in realizing AfCFTA's promise: Trade agreement creates opportunity for investment, involvement on a continental basis.

Author:Esmel, Anne-Elvire

The long-negotiated African Continental Free-Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), signed by African states in March 2018 and coming into force in July 2019, marks a new trade dynamic on the continent. It is a rare example of consensus among African states of all sizes on the idea that Africa's development is primarily based on the development of trade between African countries.

This unprecedented achievement owes a great deal to the commitment of many experts and senior officials in the African Union (AU) and within individual governments. However, there can be no AfCFTA without the full participation of African economic operators - namely, privatesector players, who have to operationalize the agreement.

Doing so is, first, about ensuring that the provisions of the treaty are effective and business-relevant. The AfCFTA is inspired by similar accords designed for more mature markets - from an infrastructure and freemovement readiness perspective - than the current African continent. Private-sector operators need to appropriate its provisions and make them meaningful in an African context and for their day-to-day business routines.

Some important issues - such as the definition of infant industries excluded from the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers per the schedule of tariff concessions - require extensive consultation with business federations. Others, such as intellectual property and competition policy, will only be decided after at least another year.

This is an opportunity to provide feedback on currently challenging situations, such as public procurement lists being selectively opened to private operators and limited access to value chains, while defining a competition law that is business-enabling.

While the free movement of goods is the agreement's first focus, it can only take full effect when there is progress on some complementary issues: free movement of people via an African passport, effectiveness of the open-skies agreement and provisions relating to the freedom of establishment. On these fronts, the private sector can and should have a say.

Making the AfCFTA work is also about setting up a proper logistics and connectivity framework allowing the free movement of goods - which requires involvement from transport operators, companies active in supply-chain traceability and infrastructure developers. Electrification, transport infrastructure, multimodal platforms, connectivity: these are the priority areas to make the agreement's...

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