How can the new African free trade agreement unlock Africa’s potential?

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By Professor Landry Signé, David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Global Economy and Development Program and the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution, Distinguished fellow at Stanford University’s Center for African Studies, Chairman of the Global Network for Africa’s Prosperity, and author of “Innovating Development Strategies in Africa: The Role of International, Regional and National Actors.


Learn more about this timely topic at the upcoming
18th International Economic Forum on Africa


Africa-TradeAfrica has an opportunity to show leadership on the world stage through strength in unity, as the rest of the world retreats from multilateralism and increases protectionism. For the first time in recent history, with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Africa could wholly embrace intra-African relations, global trade, structural transformation and sustainable development. But for the agreement to succeed, businesses, which make up the backbone of the deal, need to be aware of their potential gains and be actively involved in its implementation, working alongside governments and regional institutions that are ultimately responsible for speeding up the process.

The challenges to African trade have been immense: Africa only represents 2.4% of total global exports. Intra-African trade only represents 15% of total African exports (compared to 58% and 67% for Asia and Europe, respectively), even if the regions of Eastern and Southern Africa are outperforming Central Africa.

The AfCFTA, launched with signatures from 44 African countries in March, has the potential to open up the free movement of goods, services and people, building the capacity of African businesses. If successfully implemented, the AfCFTA could generate a combined consumer and business spending of USD 6.7 trillion by 2030, accelerate industrial development, expand economic diversification, and facilitate quality job creation — including for youth (72% of poverty rate), women (majority of small-scale traders), and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) (about 80% of regional employment).

But all this will depend on how well businesses are able to engage in the deal’s implementation. These are a few things they need to know:

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Africa’s integration: groundbreaking but not so new

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By Sarah Lawan, Regional Co-operation Advisor, Networks, Partnerships and Gender Division, OECD Development Centre, and Rodrigo Deiana, Junior Policy Analyst, Europe, Middle East and Africa Unit, OECD Development Centre


Learn more about this timely topic at the upcoming
18th International Economic Forum on Africa


Kwame-Nkrumah
Kwame Nkrumah speaking at the inaugural ceremony of the Organisation of African Unity Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1963

As early as 1963, in the midst of independence movements, Kwame Nkrumah urged, “Africa must unite or perish!” The first president of Ghana pronounced this injunction at the founding meeting of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The post-colonial thirst for “breaking with the old order and indigenising the direction of Africa’s economic development”led to the shaping of the African Economic Community (AEC), a pan-African single market. Africa reclaimed its leadership and ownership with the goal of promoting a self-sustained and self-reliant development trajectory.

2018 witnessed an acceleration of integration efforts with the landmark agreement on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in Kigali on 21 March. So far, 49 African countries have signed the AfCFTA, which will be the world’s largest free trade area since the WTO’s creation. As the late Calestous Juma put it: “The continent’s regional integration is the most complex and elaborate effort of its kind ever mounted in human history.”2

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