Designing Trade Liberalization in Africa

Modalities for Tariff Negotiations Towards an African Continental Free Trade Area

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The negotiations for an African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) were unprecedented in the history of regional trade agreements. The AfCFTA would ultimately comprise 55 members, 33 of which are least developed countries (LDCs), and encompass six preexisting regional economic communities (RECs), at different stages of integration with cascading and overlapping membership. In such a sui generis context, structuring negotiations was in itself a daunting challenge but identifying operational modalities for tariff negotiations that would serve for boosting intra-African trade was another. Despite the historic signing in March 2018 of the Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area, the Agreement is without effect until such a time that operational modalities for AfCFTA tariff negotiations are firmly established, and market access negotiations completed, so that individual AfCFTA parties define their schedules of tariff concessions as an integral part of the Agreement. This study provides an analysis of ways in which AfCFTA liberalization could effectively be organized while seeking to meet the overarching policy objective of boosting intra-Africa trade. It discusses how the existing modalities – a blueprint of trade liberalization in Africa – may be assessed in establishing an operational and effective AfCFTA and draws policy implications for the post-modalities phases of tariff negotiations and implementation of liberalization commitments.




The Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was signed by the 44 African Union Heads of State and Government on 21 March 2018, Kigali, Rwanda, and entered into force on 30 May 2019 after 22 of the 52 countries that had signed the Agreement ratified the legal instruments. The conclusion of the negotiations and the entry into force of the Agreement marked a major milestone in the four decades of pan-African continental integration efforts since the adoption of the Lagos Plan of Action in 1980 that had set out a roadmap for the establishment of the African Economic Community.


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