By Chenai Mukumba
On Sunday, 10 February 2019, President Lungu signed the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement. It was witnessed by His Excellency Albert M. Muchanga, African Union Commissioner for Trade and Industry who signed on behalf of the African Union.
Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) applauds the decision of the Zambian government to join in the creation of the world’s biggest free trade area as it is expected that the agreement will yield great benefits for the continent.
Both Zambia and Botswana signed the AfCFTA agreement today bringing the total number of signatories to 52.
Recognizing the importance of the agreement as one that will liberalise trade of both goods and services for all African countries, CUTS is happy to note that Zambia will now work towards necessary processes required to ratify the agreement.
In March 2018 Zambia signed the Kigali Declaration at the AU Summit where heads of state had gathered to sign three documents, namely: the Framework Agreement establishing the AfCFTA; the Kigali Declaration; and the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment.
Last year Zambia did not sign the AfCFTA Agreement and opted to only sign the Kigali Declaration which was a declaratory message reflective of positive political will to launch the Continental Free Trade Area. Zambia indicated that it needed to first undertake consultations with key stakeholders. The signing of the Agreement indicates that this process has been completed however the AfCFTA Agreement will only come into force when 22 countries have ratified the Agreement.
To date, eighteen countries have ratified it and Zambia will now also begin this process. As such, it is expected that the AfCFTA could come into force this year.
The decision to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area was taken during the eighteenth Assembly of Heads of State and Government in 2012 when the Heads of State and government decided to establish a Pan- Africa Continental Free Trade Area by the indicative date of 2017. This decision was taken as part of Africa’s efforts towards fast-tracking the continent-wide free trade component of the African Economic Community (AEC) established by the Abuja Treaty of 1991. In June, 2015, the Assembly of Heads of State launched the negotiations and in January 2018, a decision was taken to launch the African Continental Free Trade Area in March, 2018.
The AfCFTA envisages liberalisation of both trade in goods and services in the first phase of negotiations, and will extend to investment, competition policy and intellectual property in the second phase.
In engaging with this agreement it is important that as a country we build productive alliances and the necessary capabilities for industry take advantage of emerging opportunities, while minimizing negative impact such as job losses.
There is no doubt that implementation of the AfCFTA will create both opportunities and challenges. Therefore, the onus is on participating countries to take advantage of emerging opportunities, while minimizing the cost of trade openness.
The Author is the Centre Coordinator for Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS)