Countries that have yet to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) have been asked to do so.
In a virtual conversation with Ugandan government officials, AfCFTA Secretary General Wamkele Mene said that so far 41 of 54 signatories to the pact have ratified the agreement, and talks are still ongoing to get the rest on board. His address was part of Uganda’s national dialogue on the AfCFTA.
The agreement entered into force in January.
Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and more recently Tanzania have ratified the agreement, potentially opening their markets and pledging to remove barriers to trade and investment in Africa.
âIn relation to pending ratifications, the Secretariat continues to urge those countries that have not yet ratified it, subject to their domestic legal requirements. However, we recognize that the issue of ratification is a sensitive issue that is domestic, legal and political in nature, âsaid Mene.
He said the implementation of the trade agreement was hampered by a lack of clarity on issues such as rules of origin, tariff plans and obligations in the service sector, as well as negotiations with partner countries.
“Only after the negotiations have been concluded and then approved by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government will the path be paved for implementation,” he added.
Currently negotiations on the rules of origin have an agreement of 87.03 percent of the product rights, a significant advance in the past year and a half.
The agreement will be implemented in two phases and will end the first phase, which includes the liberalization of trade in goods and services and the establishment of a dispute settlement mechanism on the rights and obligations of members.
According to Wamkele, as part of the liberalization of trade, the contracting states have already committed to gradually abolishing the import tariffs of 97 percent of goods traded on the continent and to dismantling non-tariff trade barriers, which represent a major trade barrier on the continent.
âThe remaining three percent are the so-called excluded products, which are not subject to any tariff reduction. This will allow States parties flexibility with particular sensitivity and will need the time to adjust over a period of five years, âhe said.
The implementation of the second phase will mainly involve the development of protocols on intellectual property rights.
Tourism, transport, communications, financial services and business are the priority service sectors identified for immediate liberalization, but States parties may choose to liberalize additional sectors if they so choose, based on the principle of variable geometry through the existing trading blocs – EAC, SADC and Ecowas.
“Each of these customs unions is obliged to prepare customs offers, rules of origin and lists of obligations in the movement of goods and services for submission to the AfCFTA secretariat for review,” he said.
A dispute settlement body made up of representatives from all contracting states was set up in April this year to monitor and assess the parties to the dispute, including non-tariff trade barriers, and to ensure that members comply with the rules negotiated under the Dispute Settlement Protocol. This is seen as an important tool for economic actors to open up new markets across the continent.