Headquartered in Accra, Ghana, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is now officially the largest free trade area by the number of participating countries since the founding of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995.
The AfCFTA is based on an agreement among 54 African countries. Negotiations began as far back as 2012 but it was in 2018 at the 10th Extraordinary Session of the African Union (AU) in Kigali, Rwanda that three separate agreements were adopted to establish the free trade area.
Despite teething problems including the initial refusal of Africa’s biggest single market, Nigeria, to join the AfCFTA, the agreement came into fruition on Friday, January 1, 2021. Some 30 of the 54 countries have ratified the agreement which means that as of now, Africans and other global stakeholders can look forward to a new era of doing business in Africa.
But it is also important to see the January launch of the AfCFTA as a largely symbolic gesture. It will take a few years, even for the most optimistic, to see Africans overcoming the challenges to a free trade agreement including protectionism, national red-tapes as well as poor infrastructure across the continent.
The new AfCFTA era brings to the fore certain structural changes as well as establishes new rules that one must know. Here are three things to note under the new dispensation: