Year of the African Continental Free Trade Area

In 2023, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (the AU Assembly) adopted the “Acceleration of AfCFTA Implementation” as the theme of the year. By making 2023 the Year of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the AU hopes to make major breakthroughs in its implementation by increasing the political commitment of member states and the different stakeholders and improving their collaboration.

The AfCFTA Alleviating Poverty

The Year of the African Continental Free Trade Area, one of the major projects outlined in Agenda 2063 of the AU, is set to greatly contribute to the alleviation of poverty in Africa. By eradicating barriers to trade and expanding commerce within the continent, the program has the creation of a unique African market as its goal. It aims to achieve development in a sustainable and inclusive manner and to ensure food security and the development of the agricultural and industrial sectors.

With 55 member states of the AU and an expected 2050 population of 2.5 billion, the AfCFTA is also set to be the world’s largest free trade zone since the World Trade Organisation was formed, and per the World Bank estimates, it will increase the continent’s income by $450 billion by 2035.

All of this will have a major impact on poverty in Africa. The program should enable around 30 million people to leave extreme poverty. Another 68 million will be able to escape moderate poverty. By creating employment and enhancing sustainable development, the AfCFTA will significantly improve the African population’s average quality of life. 

The AfCFTA Roadmap

  1. May 2019 marked the AfCFTA Agreement entering into effect, and its implementation has progressed ever since. As of March 2023, 46 countries have ratified the agreement. Before the start of the 2023 Year of the AfCFTA, eight countries had met the minimum requirements for trade and participated in the program’s Guided Trade Initiative, an important start in the implementation of the AfCFTA. However, the project has still been limited by a need for foreign direct investment and by infrastructure issues. Furthermore, negotiations were complicated by competing interests between individual governments and the continent-wide project. 

However, 2023 being the Year of the AfCFTA has had non-negligible advantages. In July 2023, the AU’s Mid-Year Coordination Meeting remarked that the negotiations on the “strengthening of infrastructure through the corridor approach”, which had been stalling before, were now completed. The AfCFTA implementation has thus been accelerated and is on the right path to one day generate significant income and jobs for the continent, thus benefiting millions of people in poverty and the world economy. 

A Focus on Women and Youth 

The AfCFTA project also aims to guarantee socio-economic inclusiveness across the continent by facilitating women’s and youth’s access to cross-border trade. With Africa’s population being the youngest in the world (people under the age of 30 make up 70% of the overall population), and women being major participants of cross-border activities in Africa, their involvement in the development of the AfCFTA is essential. However, social inequalities in Africa impede women’s participation in the economy, thus pushing them into the informal sector.  Like young people, women are disproportionately impacted by financial and systematic obstacles and lack of employment. 

Among its objectives, the AfCFTA wishes to address this situation by including a Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade in the Agreement on the AfCFTA. 

Discussions on the Protocol, which had already been held in 26 countries before the start of the Year of the AfCFTA, have been a forum for African women in trade to shape their participation in the project and address the challenges they face today. The Protocol aims to find solutions to abolish the structural obstacles that women and youth face in trade, such as significant trade tariffs, or gender-based violence.

The inclusion of women and youth in the implementation of this program is paramount to the sound development of the trade area and the African economy. It is also essential to ensure that this important part of the African population is lifted out of poverty and can access better welfare. 

The Road Ahead

Despite the progress made in the 2023 Year of the AfCFTA, there is still work ahead to ensure its full implementation. Notably, the project is still in need of investment and hampered by infrastructure issues. However, the AU has made impressive strides toward the trade area’s full development in the past years and in 2023 alone, which shows its eagerness to succeed in this endeavor. If the AU achieves the full implementation of the program, it could mean unprecedented benefits for both the African and world economies. The potential for poverty alleviation it holds would be revolutionary for the African population.

– Kenza Oulammou
Photo: Unsplash