Participants at a three-day regional multi-stakeholder forum on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) organised by Third World Network-Africa (TWN-Africa) for Anglophone West Africa in Accra indicated the Protocol on Free Movement of persons is still a major headache despite some years into the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
According to them, AfCFTA which is a free trade area encompassing most African countries is yet to address the decades-old problem of the free movement of persons within the African continent.
The AfCFTA agreement which was adopted and opened for signature on 21st March 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda and entered into force on 30 May 2019 to establish a unified market of 1.3 billion people and a GDP of around $3.4 trillion, is poised to become the world’s largest free trade area with 55 member states.
Recognising the importance of human resource skills to the continent’s development, the African Union adopted the Free Movement of Persons protocol in 2018, which has been signed by 47 Member States. However, only four countries namely Rwanda, Niger, Mali and Sao Tome and Principe have ratified the Protocol to date.
So, the state of ratification is slow and disappointing as the protocol is aimed at facilitating regional integration in general, and the implementation of the AfCFTA, in particular, they lamented. Officials of the AfCFTA Secretariat, meanwhile admitted that it would take a long time for the free movement of persons to be achieved.
The Director of Trade in Goods and Competition at the AfCFTA Secretariat, Mohamed Ali noted that the AfCFTA is one of the innovative ways of transforming Africa’s economies and creating the biggest single market in the world, however, the delays in the implementation of the free movement of person protocol are affecting the smooth operations of AfCFTA. “If the problems of free movement of persons are not addressed, they would affect the implementation of the Agreement,” he said.
Mohamed Ali noted that trades would not occur if people didn’t move and therefore called on African governments to work assiduously to cut down the barriers impeding the movement of persons on the continent.
Update on the AfCFTA
Mr Ali explained to the participants from the ECOWAS sub-region that 46 State Parties had deposited their instruments of ratification of the AfCFTA Agreement with the most recent being Comoros. “42 schedules are by the Agreed Modalities and form part of the Ministerial Directive on the Application of Provisional Schedules on Tariff Concessions –trade reciprocally under the AfCFTA preferences”.
Mr Ali was quick to add that the agreed rules of Origin for the AfCFTA stood at 92.3%, whereas some chapters under the textiles and automotive sectors remain outstanding.
Touching on the five priority service sectors comprising business, communication, financial; transport, and tourism and travel-related services, he said “48 Trade in service schedule commitments have been deposited with the Secretariat” in Accra.
Abdoulie Jammeh of the Gambian Ministry of Trade explained that the AfCFTA Protocol on Trade on Services seeks to create a Single Continental Services Market through the progressive liberalisation of services on the continent.
The protocol he noted provides the foundation to negotiate, as part of its annexes – Schedules of Specific Commitments and Regulatory Cooperation framework for services sectors. “Some inform the current negotiations of the provisions in the agreement for complementary measures that State Parties have to put in place for effective implementation of the Agreement,” he said.
The protocol has 29 Articles which is a big step towards promoting trade in services in Africa to stimulate economic growth by attracting foreign investment, fostering innovation, and creating job opportunities.
Objectives of the protocol according to him are to progressively liberalise trade in services across the African continent; expand the depth and scope of services trade liberalisation, and increase, improve and develop export services; enhance the competitiveness of services through economies of scale, reduce business costs, and enhanced continental market access; among others.