Africa: One year of AfCFTA – What worked and the way forward


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Build on the achievements of inclusive and harmonized agricultural trade

Some have described him as a global game changer. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), one of the largest international free trade areas in the world, began trading under preferential arrangements on January 1, 2021.

With the COVID-induced recession diminishing as vaccination rates rise, there was great hope for the AfCFTA to show that it could live up to its hype. So what worked?

Since the start of trade on January 1, some intra-African trade under AfCFTA agreements based on anecdotal evidence has taken place, including alcoholic beverages and cosmetics (recent data on trade flows are not available). not yet fully available).

Although intra-African agricultural trade remains below 20 percent compared to over 60 percent for Europe and Asia, trade is expected to increase once negotiations are completed and trade barriers are gradually removed.

To date, 42 of the 55 African countries have ratified the agreement and 88% of negotiations on product-specific rules of origin have been concluded, covering more than 70% of intra-African trade according to the AfCFTA Secretariat in 2021 .

However, a significant flaw in the deal is that many nutrition-sensitive products may not be fully liberalized or gradually liberalized over longer periods of time, as the ongoing negotiations on tariff offers indicate. Examples of protected goods include live animals, meat, fish, milk and dairy products, fruits and vegetables, coffee, tea, spices, oil seeds and sugars.

Agricultural raw materials and African raw materials have traditionally dominated trade with the rest of the world (cocoa, coffee, cotton, tobacco and spices) with a mixture of processed products (cane and beet sugar, prepared or preserved tuna, wine and other food preparations).

For the AfCFTA to reach its full potential by harnessing the full range of the agrifood value chain, including agribusiness, governments and development partners must redouble their efforts to scale up intra-African trade by providing support to policy and capacity building. to the private sector, program development, knowledge management, and data collection and analysis.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is providing just that support to governments, the private sector and small farmers to take full advantage of what the Pan-African Agreement and trade have to offer.

In support of the implementation of the AfCFTA, FAO, in collaboration with the African Union Commission, launched the Framework to Boost Intra-African Trade in Agricultural Products and Services in April 2021 to guide policymakers , the private sector and civil society to develop and expand sustainably, inclusive and resilient intra-African trade. This framework and other knowledge products produced by the Organization also serve as tools for advocacy, dialogue, analysis and implementation of policies.

Going forward, improving food control systems will be a crucial element in increasing and sustaining the expansion of intra-African agricultural trade. In this regard, FAO provides the necessary support to strengthen the capacity of countries to comply with food safety standards and facilitate trade.

The Organization also promotes inclusive agrifood value chains to expand intra-African trade and improve food security and livelihoods, especially among vulnerable groups such as women and youth. Finally, an essential element of the success of AfCFTA is easily accessible data. Market and trade data must be democratized and digitized to enable micro, small and medium enterprises to grow and maximize their business potential.

FAO works to create and integrate trade and market information systems at all levels of the agricultural value chain to ensure inclusive agrifood systems.

There is still work to be done, but with a year under its belt in less than ideal circumstances due to COVID-19, the AfCFTA has shown positive signs that give hope for a future where trade African is rising as the global game changer he is promised to be.

It is more important than ever that countries join forces with development partners to consolidate the gains made in 2021 by strengthening production capacities, supporting investments in essential market infrastructure for inputs and products, establishing harmonized food controls, trade and market information systems, and ensuring inclusive markets that can lift the most vulnerable out of poverty.

By Ameir Mbonde, Trade Policy Specialist, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Office for Africa

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