An African continent economically united under a free trade agreement may sound like something that Marcus Garvey would have dreamed about before passing away during World War II. Nonetheless, the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) of 55 sovereign nations has been in the works since 2015 and it could be signed in March 2018. In early December, African finance and trade ministers met in Niger to put the finishing touches on the documents that will make the CFTA official and ready for signatures. Over the next few months, African officials will discuss how the terms of the agreement will affect the trading of goods; the provisions that will rule trading of services across the Continent are already in place.
Although a lot of ground still needs to be covered before the CFTA can be enacted and implemented, trade barriers across Africa could be eliminated by the year 2020. The current plan is to present the CFTA for ratification among the 15 major economies in the Continent. The most important issues related to reducing or eliminating tariffs have already been figured out; technical matters related to antitrust and intellectual property issues are forthcoming.
As the situation currently stands, trading is a complicated affair for many African nations. More than 80 percent of exports are natural and agricultural resources that predominantly end up in Europe and Asia. Many countries are not able to trade with each other on an intra-African basis because of their commitments with European nations; moreover, cross-border smuggling of goods is discouraging. The CFTA would bring about more than just low tariffs to the Continent; within the agreement, countries will also be bound to modernize and overhaul their customs systems. A truck or shipping container getting stuck in Zimbabwean customs for two weeks would be a violation of the CFTA.
Reaction by the United Nations
A 2017 report by the United Nations estimates that trade among African nations would increase by more than 50 percent once the CFTA is executed. This agreement also includes provisions to curb smuggling and unregulated trading, two practices that end up hurting local producers. Of greater importance to the UN is the issue of African unity through regional economic development.
Marcus Garvey’s pan-African visions called for Afro-Caribbean and Afro-American people to return to their ancestral lands for the purpose of redeveloping the Continent; this desire was echoed by the former President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, who shared Garvey’s dream of African nations giving preference to their continental neighbors instead of continuing to cater to their former colonial rulers.
The next phase of the trade talks will take place in January 2018 with the creation of a Single African Air Transport Market, which will be formalized at a summit in Ethiopia. The United Nations is pleased with the pace of negotiations; the ultimate goal is for African trade to compete with the likes of the European single market and the North American Free Trade Agreement.