The African Continental Free Trade Area: Benefits, Opportunities and Challenges

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Date: 24 June 2021     –     Time: 09AM     –    Venue: Mansel Hotel -Fouda (Register Here)


On 1st January 2021, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), created with a view to eventually integrate all states of the African Union into a free trade area, was effectively put in place. This continental market, which brings together several African countries, will cover a market of over 1.2 billion people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of $2.5 trillion. In terms of the number of participating countries, the AfCFTA, at full strength, will be the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) with 53 member countries. To date, 54 of the 55 member states of the African Union have signed the Agreement, but only 36 countries have deposited their instruments of ratification, thus becoming States Parties to the Agreement. 

The AfCFTA will liberalize and facilitate a single market for goods and services, including the free movement of people and capital. It would contribute to sustainable and inclusive socioeconomic development, gender equity and, more broadly, lead to increased competitiveness and industrial development. It should be noted that the percentage of trade between African countries is only 16 – 18% and that most of the continent’s trade is with the rest of the world. Most African exports are in raw materials, including extractive commodities like oil, gas and minerals, which are vulnerable to market volatility. Therefore, the key focus here is on the development of value chains and manufacturing on a continental scale. 

The countries that ratify the agreement agree to liberalize 90% of their tariff lines. In other words, they will reduce and eventually eliminate tariffs on 90% of goods traded under the AfCFTA. The continent’s least developed countries (LDCs) are expected to reach this target in 10 years, while the others will do so over a period of five years. Sensitive products, which account for up to 7% of tariff lines, will be fully liberalized over a period of 13 years for LDCs and 10 years for non-LDCs. Finally, 3% of tariff lines will be excluded from tariff liberalization. Several other measures were also adopted, including the monitoring and elimination of non-tariff barriers, establishing a digital payments system, and creating the African Trade Observatory. The bigger market will spur producers to upscale and so support increased industrialization and value addition on the continent. More employment opportunities will thus be generated for Africa’s burgeoning youth population. 

Indeed, Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs) or regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) are governed by the scope of rules laid out in the GATT 1994 Article XXIV. The Article gives member states exemption from the principle of Most-Favoured Nation (MFN) by treating mutual imports preferentially through the formation of a PTA or RTA. The WTO permits the creation of three types of PTA, i.e., formation of a Customs Union (CU) under Article XXIV, Agreements under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP)and Agreements crafted under the Enabling Clause. 

With this in mind and given the socioeconomic context marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Nkafu Policy Institute of the Denis & Lenora Foretia Foundation is organizing the first edition of the Nkafu Open Trade Initiative Discussion on the theme: “The African Continental Free Trade Area: Benefits, Opportunities and Challenges”. 


The main objective of this event is to provide a platform for high-level experts to address the requirements for the successful implementation of the AfCFTA. The discussion will center around the challenges with implementation and the benefits and opportunities of AfCFTA for African countries. Specifically, it will provide an opportunity to: 

  • Examine the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area 
  • Critically Assess the Agreement and its benefits to member countries 
  • Outline the development implications of the AfCFTA on health, education, employment and consumption 
  • Assess the appropriateness of current procedures in the implementation monitoring of the agreement. 
  • Identify and propose policy recommendations to facilitate the process of implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area. 

Venue and date 

The discussion is scheduled for 24th June 2021 at the Mansel Hotel in Yaoundé-Cameroon. 

Target audience 

This panel discussion will provide a forum of 50 participants (including the panel discussion) from different fields of expertise, and will enable them to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones. The audience consists of government representatives, traders, investors, academics, researchers and students, speakers, entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations, civil society and public representatives etc. It is a unique opportunity to better inform on the reforms needed for Cameroon to achieve its emerging status by 2035 whilst ensuring the effective implementation of the AfCFTA. In addition, this event will create a platform for professional development and effective policy discourse. 

Panelists and Moderator 

Pr. Christian Zamo Akono: Associate Professor of the Faculties of Economics and Professor at the Faculty of Economics and Management (FSEG) of the University of Yaoundé II-Soa (Cameroon)

Ms Frida Basok: International Trade law and Trade Policy Expert at ECCAS Women’s Entrepreneurship Council

Landry Roland Noutchang: Director of Promotion and Cooperation at the Cameroon Chamber of Commerce Industry Mines and Crafts, Corporate director, Senior international consultant, Douala, Cameroon

Moderator: Henri Kouam


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