Countries yet to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) have been urged to do so.
Speaking virtually to Ugandan government officials on Wednesday, AfCFTA Secretary General Wamkele Mene said that so far 41 of 54 signatories to the pact had ratified the agreement, with talks still ongoing to get the rest on board. His address was part of Uganda’s national dialogue on the AfCFTA.
The agreement kicked off in January.
Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and recently Tanzania have ratified the agreement, potentially opening their markets and committing to reduce barriers to African trade and investment.
“Regarding outstanding ratifications, the Secretariat continues to engage the countries that have not yet ratified it to do so as a matter of urgency, subject to their domestic legal requirements. We do however recognise that the issue of ratification is a sensitive matter that is domestic, legal and political in nature,” Mene said.
He said the implementation of the trade agreement is challenged by lack of clarity on issues such as rules of origin, tariff schedules and services sector commitments and partner states negotiations.
“It is only after the negotiations have been concluded and subsequently approved by the assembly of Heads of State and governments that the way will be paved for implementation,” he added.
Currently, rules of origin negotiations have an 87.o3 percent agreement on product rights, a substantial progress in the past one and half years.
Being implemented in two phases, the agreement is at the tail end of the first phase that covers trade liberalisation of goods and services and the establishment of a dispute settlement mechanism concerning members’ rights and obligations.
According to Wamkele, under the liberalisation of trade, state parties have already committed to eliminating import duties of 97 per cent of goods traded on the continent over a phased period of time as well as address non-tariff barriers which are a major obstacle to trade on the continent.
“The remaining three per cent are the so called excluded products which will not be subjected to tariff reduction. This will allow flexibility to state parties with particular sensitivities and require the time to adjust over a five year period,” he said.
Implementation of phase two will mainly see development of protocols on intellectual property rights.
Tourism, transport, communication, financial services and business are the priority services sectors that been identified for immediate liberalisation but state parties may choose to liberalise more sectors when they so wish based on the principal of variable geometry through the existing trade blocs—EAC, SADC and Ecowas.
“Each of these customs unions is required to prepare tariff offers, rules of origins and schedules of commitments in trade of goods and services for submission to the AfCFTA secretariat for verification,” he said.
A dispute settlement body composed of representatives of all state parties was in April this year inaugurated to monitor and evaluate the factions of the disputes including non-tariff barriers and to ensure that members abide by rules negotiated under the protocol of dispute settlement. This is viewed as an important tool for economic operators to access new markets across the continent.