The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA): The Law, the Economics, and the Research

By Dunia P. Zongwe

Dunia P. Zongwe is an author, an academic, and a consultant. He currently serves as an Associate Professor at Alliance University, India; and as an Adjunct Associate Professor at Walter Sisulu University (WSU), South Africa. He specializes and publishes in the areas of finance, the economic analysis of the law, international law, development, and human rights, focusing on Africa and the Global South. He teaches international trade law in India and has taught international economic law at several universities in Southern Africa. Zongwe received his training at the University of Namibia (law), Université de Montréal (humanities), and Cornell University (law), where he earned a master’s degree and a doctorate (foreign investments in mining and infrastructure in Africa).

Published January/February 2024

1. Introduction

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a landmark economic initiative poised to reshape commerce across Africa and beyond. It is the world’s largest free trade area by number of participating countries, second only to the World Trade Organization (WTO). In an era where economies integrate and where regional economic communities (RECs) increasingly serve as vehicles for prosperity, the AfCFTA stands out as a beacon of African unity and potential.

This article sets out to dissect the AfCFTA, aiming to help readers understand the provisions of this complex trade agreement, the economic rationales underpinning its establishment, and the scholarly methods suitable for examining its fast-burgeoning landscape. The article fulfills two specific objectives: (1) to unravel the intricacies of the AfCFTA’s provisions and the economic principles that drive them, and (2) to address the scarcity of focused encyclopedic discourse surrounding this paramount agreement.

Comprehending the AfCFTA is inherently difficult. Accordingly, this article seeks to mitigate the information deficit by analyzing the AfCFTA Agreement. In achieving this, the article builds a bridge between the abstract provisions of that treaty and the real-life effects it may have on the future of the continent’s economies.

At the heart of the AfCFTA’s inception is the storied history of African nations’ efforts to integrate their economies. In force since May 30th, 2019, the AfCFTA represents a progression of these efforts and emerged against the visionary backdrop of Agenda 2063 — a strategic framework for transforming Africa’s societies and economies inclusively and sustainably over a 50-year period (i.e., 2013-2063). Readers must keep in mind this background if they wish to make sense of the AfCFTA Agreement’s emergence as both a continuation of past efforts and a giant step towards the unification of African economies.

What legal frameworks and economic strategies does the AfCFTA encompass? Which theories underpin the logic behind its workings? And how can researchers methodologically study such a landmark agreement? Those are the questions that this article strives to answer, and they form the nucleus around which the article revolves, exploring the AfCFTA’s complexities in a structured fashion.

A threefold hypothesis appears to justify the AfCFTA. According to that hypothesis, if member states strictly implement it, the AfCFTA will (1) catalyze robust intra-continental trade, (2) diversify economies, and (3) create jobs in Africa. However, realizing this potential is not without its challenges, including significant obstacles in terms of logistics, infrastructure, and politics. This article proceeds from the idea that rigorous and in-depth research into the AfCFTA can deepen insights into how states can implement its provisions effectively and strictly.

The scholarly milieu boasts a rich tapestry of published ideas on regional economic agreements. Yet, while the literature on the nascent AfCFTA is quickly growing, that literature reveals a yawning gap when it comes to comprehensive, encyclopedic, tertiary publications on that trade agreement. This article plugs that gap. Crucially, this bird’s-eye perspective lays the groundwork for readers to gain a 360-degree panorama of the AfCFTA and the ways in which its member states expect it to impact their economies. This perspective also assists readers in situating this trade agreement within broader economic narratives.

This article offers key insights into the agreement’s structure and strategic imperatives, making it a must-have resource for a diverse set of stakeholders. These insights do not only benefit academics, but also practitioners, equipping those involved with the knowledge to leverage the AfCFTA’s assets and navigate its intricacies.

To enable readers and stakeholders to unravel the intricacies of the AfCFTA and its founding treaty, the article is organized into a sequence of five interrelated parts, each building upon the last. In the part immediately following this introduction, the article traces the history of the AfCFTA to contextualize how it evolved within Africa’s economic-integration narrative. Section 3 explores rationales rooted in economics that warranted and underpinned the agreement, such as trade benefits and industrialization potential. Then, later in Section 3, the article spells out the theories that had informed those who designed the AfCFTA and framed how it works in practice.

To lay bare the structure of the AfCFTA treaty, Section 4 of this article details the specific commitments and operational guidelines set out in the treaty. Next, the article examines the practical hurdles that confront the AfCFTA’s implementation and effectiveness. Lastly, it guides readers on how they can conduct research on that trade agreement, outlining qualitative research methods appropriate for AfCFTA studies, which allows readers to further research on this topic methodically.

Beyond the African Union’s dismal history of policy implementation, the AfCFTA faces a fundamental problem, whether consciously acknowledged or not: its underlying ideology. A tension exists between the socialism that sparked the movement towards African integration and the capitalism that fuels the AfCFTA. The African Union (AU) and the administrators of the AfCFTA must balance its neoliberal foundations with pan-Africanist ideals of equity through a sort of pragmatism that would temper profits with social justice.

2. Background

The AfCFTA has, since its inception, boldly manifested the continent-wide unity that African states aspire to. Indeed, the history of the AfCFTA reflects how Africa has tenaciously journeyed through the fragmentation of its economies towards the possibility of a united front.[1]

However, the journey of the AfCFTA has not been without its setbacks. The agreement’s operational phase has grappled with major issues needing strategic navigation, such as the harmonization of tariff concessions, the establishment of rules of origin, and the setting up of dispute settlement mechanisms. Furthermore, the diverse stages of economic development among member states, coupled with infrastructure deficits and shifting politics, have impeded member states from implementing the agreement seamlessly. Despite these stumbling blocks, the AfCFTA forged ahead – a testament to Africa’s resolve to take charge of its economic destiny. The trade area embodies the spirit of Pan-Africanism and echoes the post-colonial entreaties of Africans to unite and work together.

Accordingly, this part of the article chronicles this historic journey, tracing the antecedents, the formative processes, the inauguration, and the execution of this transformative trade agreement. The first section of this part of the article recounts that history while the second section offers a timeline with specific dates. The third section lists the state parties to the AfCFTA treaty, as of September 2023. Lastly, this section sums up the steps taken to implement the treaty.

2.1. History

The earliest initiatives to integrate the continent economically date as far back as the colonial days in the late 19th century. The AfCFTA represents the latest significant step towards achieving the goal of the African Union (AU) of creating an African Economic Community.

2.1.1. The Antecedents

The genesis of the AfCFTA dates to the colonial era in the late 19th century. According to Gérout and Others, Africa has gone through five phases of economic integration.[2] They discern the following phases:

The first phase (1889-1979) involved small-scale, subregional experiments that ensued from the political agenda of the Pan-African movement.[3] During that period, Pan-Africanists saw African nations working together as a means to achieve political ends rather than an end in itself.[4] Marked by the 1979 Monrovia Summit and the 1980 Lagos Plan of Action, the second phase (1979-1991) witnessed the first systematic plan program for integrating the continent and envisaged a legally binding continental treaty to implement that program.[5] During this phase, though states increasingly recognized the necessity to integrate Africa economically, their efforts in doing so failed because of the series of economic crises that countries on the continent faced in the 1980s.

The third phase (1991-2006) begins on June 3rd, 1991, when states adopted the Abuja Treaty, otherwise known as the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community.[6] That Treaty was characterized by (1) the prominence of law over politics in ensuring that states implement the agreed program and by (2) the affirmation of integration at the level of sub-regions as a prerequisite for and as building blocks of integration at the level of the continent. However, member states prevaricated, created more regional economic communities (RECs), and joined more than one REC at the same time, ultimately derailing the Abuja Treaty’s agenda.[7]

These regional bodies laid the foundational work for integrating African economies, seeking to harmonize policies and foster trade amongst member states. However, despite these efforts, the vision of continent-wide integration remained distant, fragmented by the varied economic landscapes and political interests of individual states.

Frustrated by the major shortcomings of earlier initiatives to bring the continent together, states decided in the fourth phase (2006-2015) to speed up this process through the Boosting Intra-African Trade (BIAT).[8] At that stage, states sought to rationalize the multiplicity of overlapping RECs and re-thought the first step of African integration as a giant free trade area built by RECs merging their free trade zones. This vision of a giant free trade area contrasted with the former idea of bringing the continent closer together by uniting the existing RECs’ customs unions.

Made in 2012, the BIAT decision envisioned the formation of an African Continental Free Trade Area by consolidating the existing RECs into two super-RECs. One super-REC would encompass the eastern half of the continent by consolidating the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The other super-REC would cover all the other RECs.

2.1.2. The Formative Processes

The game-changing idea of a continent-wide free trade area gained momentum in the early 21st century, as African states realized that intra-African commerce remained significantly lower than that of other regions and as the African Union Assembly adopted the BIAT decision to establish a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) by 2017.[9] The African Union (AU), set up in 2002 to succeed the Organization of African Unity (OAU), formed the high ambition of unifying the continent’s economies as a strategic priority. This vision was crystallized in 2013 in the Agenda 2063, a blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa over the subsequent 50 years.

Agenda 2063 envisions “an integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena”. This policy framework rests on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance.[10]

Efforts to actualize the AfCFTA began in earnest when delegates started to formally negotiate in 2015. These negotiations aimed to address the multifaceted disparities and policy divergences that characterized the continent’s economies. Representatives from member states (‘delegates’) dialogued intensively, deliberating on the complex legal frameworks and economic strategies required to realize such a sweeping agreement. This phase was characterized by concerted efforts to reconcile diverse economic interests and regulatory frameworks to achieve a common goal.

2.1.3. The Birth of the AfCFTA

A cornerstone moment in the history of the AfCFTA came on March 21, 2018, when 44 AU member states in Kigali, Rwanda, signed the agreement. This marked a profound milestone, as it demonstrated the political will to move beyond rhetoric into action. Article 23 of the AfCFTA Agreement required that at least 22 countries ratify it for it to enter into force, a criterion that the AU met a little over a year later, reflecting a commendable pace given the scale and implications of that treaty.

The AfCFTA Agreement officially came into operation on May 30th, 2019,[11] a date that opened a new chapter in Africa’s storybook. Immediately following the Agreement, three protocols covering trade in goods, trade in services, and dispute settlement entered into force as well.[12] Celebrated as the world’s largest free trade area since the community of states established the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1994, the AfCFTA encompasses a market of more than 1.3 billion consumers and a combined GDP of 3.4 trillion US dollars.[13]

2.1.4. Implementing the AfCFTA

On July 7th, 2019, the operational phase of the AfCFTA Agreement officially began. On that date, the President of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Benedict Oramah, launched the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS) at the 12th Extraordinary Summit of AU Heads of State in Niamey, Niger. Afreximbank manages and operates the PAPSS.

This pan-African payment system is one of the five key instruments that the EU utilized to operationalize the AfCFTA Agreement, the four other instruments being the African Trade Observatory (ATO), the rules of origin, the tariff concessions, and the online monitoring mechanism.[14] The PAPSS also belongs to a suite of five digital platforms that comprises the MANSA (due diligence platform), the PAPSS, the TRADAR Club, the Africa Trade Exchange (ATEX), and ATG Connect.[15] The month of August, 2020, witnessed the setting up of the AfCFTA Secretariat. Then, on October 7th, 2022, the AfCFTA Secretariat launched the AfCFTA Guided Trade Initiative in Accra, Ghana,[16] which kickstarted trade under the Agreement.

This free trade area does not only promise scale but also potential: It can effectively catalyze a new era of development through increased intra-African commerce, industrialization, and sustainable economic growth. In tracing the origins of the AfCFTA, it emerges that the agreement is more than a set of legal texts and economic policies. It constitutes a bridge between the continent’s fragmented economic past and a future of shared prosperity. The AfCFTA’s history is still being written, with each step forward in its implementation representing a stride towards realizing the long-held dream of African economic integration.

2.2. Timeline

Here is a timeline of key dates and milestones in the history of the AfCFTA:

1991 Abuja Treaty signed to establish the African Economic Community (AEC) to promote economic integration in Africa.
2012 (Jan. 29-30) AU Assembly adopts the BIAT decision[17] to establish a Continental Free Trade Area by 2017.
2015 (Jun. 10-15) Negotiations for the AfCFTA launched at AU Summit in Johannesburg.[18]
2018 (Jan. 29) Countries sign in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment (i.e., the Free Movement Protocol).
2018 (Mar. 21) 44 AU member states sign the AfCFTA Agreement in Kigali, Rwanda.
2019 (Apr. 29) Gambia becomes the 22nd country to ratify the AfCFTA, meeting the threshold for the agreement to enter into force.
2019 (May 30) AfCFTA Agreement enters into force.
2019 (Jul. 7) The 12th Extraordinary Summit of AU Heads of State in Niamey, Niger kick-starts the operational phase of AfCFTA. During the same Summit, Afreximbank activates the PAPSS to enable member states and the AU to implement the AfCFTA Agreement.
2020 (Aug.) AfCFTA Secretariat established.
2021 (Jan. 1) Trading under the AfCFTA formally begins.
2022 (Oct. 7) AfCFTA Guided Trade Initiative launched in Accra, Ghana, kicking off actual trading under the Agreement.
2023 (Feb. 19) the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government adopts three new protocols on (1) investments, (2) intellectual property, and (3) competition.
2023 (Jun. 20) the Africa Trade Gateway (ATG) launched to support the implementation of the AfCFTA Agreement.[19]

2.3. List of Member States

As of September 2023, virtually all African states signed the AfCFTA Agreement, except Eritrea.[20] Of the 54 signatories, 47 countries ratified the Agreement. That amounts to 87% rate of ratification (i.e., 47 out of 55 countries).[21] The seven signatories that have not (yet) ratified the Agreement comprise Benin, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan. Eritrea neither signed nor ratified the Agreement. In total, 8 out of 55 countries have not acceded to the Agreement.

# State parties Ratification date
1 Ghana May 10th, 2018
2 Kenya May 10th, 2018
3 Rwanda May 26th, 2018
4 Niger Jun. 19th, 2018
5 Chad Jul. 2nd, 2018
6 Eswatini Jul. 2nd, 2018
7 Guinea Oct. 16th, 2018
8 Côte d’Ivoire Nov. 23rd, 2018
9 Mali Feb. 2nd, 2019
10 Namibia Feb. 2nd, 2019
11 Uganda Feb. 9th, 2019
12 South Africa Feb. 10th, 2019
13 Congo, Rep. (Congo-Brazzaville) Feb. 10th, 2019
14 Djibouti Feb. 11th, 2019
15 Mauritania Feb. 11th, 2019
16 Senegal Apr. 2nd, 2019
17 Togo Apr. 2nd, 2019
18 Egypt Apr. 8th, 2019
19 Ethiopia Apr. 10th, 2019
20 Gambia Apr. 16th, 2019
21 Sahrawi Arab Democratic Rep. Apr. 30th, 2019
22 Sierra Leone Apr. 30th, 2019
23 Zimbabwe May 24th, 2019
24 Burkina Faso May 29th, 2019
25 São Tomé & Principe Jun. 27th, 2019
26 Equatorial Guinea Jul. 2nd, 2019
27 Gabon Jul. 7th, 2019
28 Mauritius Oct. 7th, 2019
29 Central African Rep. Sept. 22nd, 2020
30 Angola Nov. 4th, 2020
31 Lesotho Nov. 27th, 2020
32 Tunisia Nov. 27th, 2020
33 Cameroon Dec. 1st, 2020
34 Nigeria Dec. 5th, 2020
35 Malawi Jan. 15th, 2021
36 Zambia Feb. 5th, 2021
37 Algeria Jun. 23rd, 2021
38 Burundi Aug. 26th, 2021
39 Seychelles Sept. 15th, 2021
40 Tanzania Jan. 17th, 2022
41 Cape Verde Feb. 5th, 2022
42 Democratic Rep. of the Congo Feb. 23rd, 2022
43 Morocco Apr. 20th, 2022
44 Guinea-Bissau Sept. 27th, 2022
45 Botswana Feb. 19th, 2023
46 Comoros Feb. 19th, 2023
47 Mozambique Jul. 5th, 2023

3. The Economics

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) strives to help economies develop in Africa and to resolve the issues plaguing them. This section (1) ventilates those issues that the AfCFTA seeks to (re)solve, and (2) delves into the theories that inform the AfCFTA Agreement. The AfCFTA’s neoliberal underpinnings clash with the socialist pan-Africanist ideals that originally catalyzed the push for African economic integration. However, with pragmatic policies balancing profit and equity, the AfCFTA could still spur inclusive development for all Africans.

3.1. The Economic Issues Tackled by the AfCFTA

One of the key issues that the AfCFTA sets about solving concerns the low levels of regional integration and intra-African trade. At 18% of total intra-continent trade, African countries have historically failed to achieve high levels of trade with one another, compared to other regions.[22] Indeed, Africa trades more with the outside world than with herself. Unlike Europe where intra-regional trade accounts for 69% of total trade and Asia where it accounts for 59%, intra-African trade only accounts for a mere 18% of total trade.[23] Hence, the AfCFTA mainly aims to create a continent-wide single market by eliminating tariffs and non-tariff barriers, enabling goods, services, and people to move freely across Africa.[24] By encouraging its members to integrate regionally and boost commerce among themselves, the AfCFTA wishes to assist them in growing and developing their economies.

Another problem that the AfCFTA intends to overcome is the overreliance on commodity exports. Many African countries heavily depend on the export of commodities such as oil, minerals, and agricultural products.[25] Over 70% of Africa’s exports outside the continent consisted of extractives from 2014 to 2016, while less than 40% of intra-African trade involved extractives in the same period.[26] Thus, African economies do not only depend on the export of primary commodities; they also heavily rely on demand from foreign, non-African markets.

This dependence on the boom-and-bust commodity cycle foreign markets makes African countries vulnerable to commodity price fluctuations and restricts their capacity to diversify their economies and industrialize.[27] The AfCFTA promotes economic diversification by opening opportunities for African industries to access larger and more integrated markets within the continent.[28] By reducing trade barriers and promoting regional value chains, the AfCFTA can help African countries move away from commodity dependence and grow their manufacturing and other sectors.[29]

Thirdly, the AfCFTA tries to address the problem of limited market access for African businesses. Currently, with average tariffs of 6.1%, businesses face higher tariffs when exporting within Africa compared to when they export outside the continent.[30] This limits the growth potential of those businesses, This slows the momentum for intra-African commerce built up by the advent of the AfCFTA.[31] The AfCFTA plans to – over a period of 15 years after entering into force – eliminate tariffs on intra-African commerce, making it easier for African businesses to trade within the continent and benefit from the growing African market.[32] This increased market access can stimulate investment, promote entrepreneurship, and assist member states in creating jobs and reducing poverty.

However, the implementation of the AfCFTA poses several challenges. These challenges include the necessity to strengthen regional coordination mechanisms, enforce rules of origin, regulate competition, and settle disputes.[33] Additionally, to successfully realize the fruits of deeper integration, AfCFTA members face infrastructure bottlenecks, supply-side constraints, and non-tariff barriers.[34] Investment in infrastructure, transport corridors, and logistics remains key to enabling the AfCFTA to function smoothly.[35] This article covers some of these implantation hurdles in Section 5 of this article below.

In sum, the AfCFTA seeks to address a variety of issues that affect economies in Africa and that stop them from developing. It tries hard to enhance regional integration, increase intra-African trade, diversify economies, and promote industrialization and technological advancement. By eliminating tariffs and non-tariff barriers, the AfCFTA can create a larger and more integrated market, attract investment, and foster economic growth. However, implementing the AfCFTA successfully requires addressing challenges such as strengthening coordination mechanisms, improving infrastructure, and overcoming supply-side constraints. The AfCFTA represents a golden opportunity for Africa to transform its trade landscape and achieve sustainable economic development.

Perhaps the greatest issue confronting the AfCFTA is the fact that those who designed it and those theorizing it source their ideas from neoliberalism. This poses a paramount dilemma because the pan-Africanist ideals that birthed the movement for African economic integration in the 19th century align more with left-wing, socialist economic policies. Emphasizing free trade and private sector-led growth in the AfCFTA seems discordant with the visions of African unity and egalitarianism championed by pioneers like Kwame Nkrumah.

Even if the drafters of the AfCFTA have not succeeded in moving away from capitalism and in centering pan-African socialism, Africans should hope nonetheless that those who will administer and implement the agreement will find the wisdom to extract the juiciest fruits of neoliberalism delicately while avoiding the worst excesses that often accompany such economic policies, especially unsustainable income disparities. With pragmatic policies that temper the profit motive with concerns for equity, the AfCFTA could produce and nurture inclusive development that uplifts all Africans. The section immediately following this one deals with the theories that guide the AfCFTA. The article now turns to those theories.

3.2. The Theories Behind the AfCFTA

The theories that inform the AfCFTA stem from economics, particularly in the fields of international trade and regional integration. This section of the article sketches out these theories and what they imply for the AfCFTA. These theories cover comparative advantage, the gravity model, and regional economic integration.

The economics driving the AfCFTA appear to all derive from neoliberalism. To be sure, the theories of comparative advantage, the gravity model, and regional economic integration exemplify neoliberal ideology. As mentioned in the preceding section, this situation has plunged the AfCFTA into a crisis of ideology – a dilemma between the founding socialism and the existing neoliberalism of Africa’s integration trajectory.

One of the key economic theories that underpin the AfCFTA is the theory of comparative advantage, as proposed by David Ricardo. According to this theory, countries should specialize in producing goods and services in which they have a comparative advantage.[36] A country has a comparative advantage in producing a good if the opportunity cost of producing that good in terms of other goods is lower in that country than it is in other countries.[37] By engaging in trade based on those comparative advantages, countries can maximize their overall welfare or “the universal good of the whole”.[38]

For example, Simola et al. use the theory of comparative advantage to assess the potential gains from intra-African trade, especially in the agri-food sectors.[39] They also employ the theory to quantify trade-diverting and trade-creating effects due to market opening, and to identify which sectors the AfCFTA might affect. Similarly, Gourdon and his colleagues discuss the potential gains from reducing barriers to intra-African trade based on complementarity in production structures, which is an important indicator of the potential gains from trade driven by comparative advantage.[40]

The gravity model of world trade also informed those who designed the AfCFTA. The gravity model of trade suggests that the volume of trade between two countries is positively related to their GDPs and negatively related to the distance between them.[41] Tinbergen presented it as a “very simple” model that comprises three variables: the gross national product (GNP) – read GDP – of the exporting country, the GNP of the importing country, and the distance between the two countries.[42] In short, how much a country will trade goods and services with another depends on the size of their economies and the distance between those two countries. The larger their economic size and the shorter the distance between them, the larger the volume of trade between those two countries.

Likewise, by creating a single market of 1.3 billion consumers, more than 45 countries (as of September 2023), and a GDP of $3.4 trillion US dollars,[43] the AfCFTA intends to increase the volume of commerce between countries geographically located on the same continent by reducing distance-related costs and promoting economies of scale. This would push up trade and investment flows and deepen the integration of African economies.

For instance, Echandi and his colleagues utilized the gravity model to measure how the AfCFTA may impact foreign direct investments (FDIs) in and out of Africa, and among AfCFTA members themselves.[44] They found that more bilateral trade will positively affect bilateral FDI.[45]

Thirdly, the AfCFTA draws on the theory of regional integration. Specifically, Balassa defines regional economic integration as a process and a state of affairs: As a process, it refers to measures designed to abolish discrimination between economic units belonging to different national states; as a state of affairs, it describes the absence of such discrimination between national economies.[46] Ultimately, the goal of such integration is to reduce and eventually eliminate barriers to the free flow of goods, services, and factors of production between each other. Doing so increases efficiency[47] and the welfare of participating countries by allowing each country to specialize in the production of goods and services for which it has a comparative advantage.

The AfCFTA builds on the existing regional economic communities (RECs) in Africa, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC). The AfCFTA appears to have re-aligned its process with the theory of regional economic integration when it reconceptualized its first step as a giant free trade area built by RECs uniting their free trade zones. In that fashion, it departed – as mentioned in the historical background above – from the earlier idea of integration in Africa, which envisioned integration as beginning with the existing RECs’ fusing their customs unions.

In summary, the theories that inform the AfCFTA are rooted in economics, particularly in the fields of international trade, regional integration, and institutional economics. The AfCFTA draws on the theory of comparative advantage to promote specialization and trade among African countries. It also applies the gravity model of trade to increase intra-African trade by reducing distance-related costs. The AfCFTA wants to deepen economic integration at the regional and continental levels, building on existing RECs. By understanding these theories and what they imply, policymakers can better design and implement the AfCFTA to achieve its goals of growing economies, diversifying commerce, and achieving sustainable development in Africa.

4. The Law

4.1. The AfCFTA Treaty and Its Provisions

The AfCFTA Agreement, signed in 2018, establishes a continental free trade area among member states of the African Union (AU). It is one of the flagship projects of Agenda 2063.[48] In tune with the liberal theories that fuel it, the AfCFTA Agreement primarily aims to create a single continent-wide, liberalized market where goods, services, and persons can move freely.[49] More specifically, the Agreement lays down eight general objectives:

From the above list, it follows that the AfCFTA Agreement targets objectives beyond the free market, but that free trade constitutes its most important mission. Indeed, given that one of the biggest assets of major RECs such as the European Union (EU) is precisely their common market and its huge size, creating a single, continent-wide free market stands out as the AfCFTA Agreement’s raison d’être and chief virtue.

4.1.1. Structure and Outline of the AfCFTA Agreement


The AfCFTA Agreement boasts a simple and clear anatomy. It divides into seven parts and attaches three protocols (i.e., those providing for (1) trade in goods, (2) trade in services, and (3) dispute settlement).

Supplementing the free trade agenda of the AfCFTA Agreement is the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment (i.e., the Free Movement Protocol), Adopted on January 29th, 2018, the same year as the AfCFTA Agreement, the Free Movement Protocol has not yet come into force, as it has not yet received the required number of 15 ratifications.

On February 19th, 2023, the AU Assembly adopted three new protocols to the AfCFTA Agreement, namely investment, intellectual property, and competition. Like the WTO Agreement and its annexes, including the treaties they contain, the AfCFTA Agreement binds its members to all its protocols, annexes, and appendices as one single undertaking (Article 8 of the AfCFTA Agreement). With this package-deal approach, members cannot cherry-pick which instruments to adhere to and which ones to ignore.


The AfCFTA Agreement displays seven parts:

Based on that structure, the substance of the AfCFTA Agreement boils down to seven sweeping observations:

4.1.2. Fundamental Principles

The AfCFTA is led by a dozen principles. Article 5 of the AfCFTA Agreement lists the following fundamental principles:

Although principles such as substantial liberalization, MFN, the national treatment, and transparency would ordinarily feature a neoliberal institution, the vision of Africa’s integration as internally driven and based on consensus in decision-making translate some traditional ethos of African philosophy and value systems.

4.1.3. Key Objectives and Institutions

Besides the “general objectives” outlined above (for example, setting up a single continent-wide, liberalized market; and enabling goods, services, capital, and persons to move freely within that market), the AfCFTA Agreement specifies its objectives.

Specific Objectives

The first specific objectives are to progressively eliminate barriers to trade in goods (tariffs and non-tariff barriers) and liberalize trade in services (Article 4(a)-(c) of the AfCFTA Agreement). Other specific objectives include cooperating on all trade-related areas, notably on investment, intellectual property rights, and investment (Article 4(c)-(e) of the Agreement). Moreover, the AfCFTA Agreement specifically intends to set up institutions to administer and implement it, and to put in place a mechanism to mediate disputes among member states (Article 4(f)-(g)).


To realize its objectives, both specific and general, the AfCFTA Agreement establishes four organs, to wit:

These bodies make decisions by consensus, with flexibility for non-consensus decisions in certain cases (Article 14 of the AfCFTA Agreement). The organization of the AfCFTA reveals how intimately this trade area connects to the AU. To be sure, the Assembly is first and foremost an organ of the AU. Similarly, though the AfCFTA shaped it as a distinct body that works autonomously from the AU Commission, the Secretariat nonetheless functions “within the African Union system” (see Article 13(3)-(4) of the Agreement). Furthermore, the Secretariat receives its funds from the overall annual AU budgets (Article 13(5)).

The connection of AfCFTA to the AU also appears from the diverse reporting relationships among them. The Secretariat and the Committee of Senior Trade officials both report to the Council of Ministers, the Council of Ministers reports to the Executive Council (i.e., an AU institution), and the Executive Council reports to the Assembly (i.e., the supreme AU institution).[54]

The AU Assembly (Articles 9-10): The Assembly, as the highest decision-making organ of the AU, provides oversight and strategic guidance on the AfCFTA (Article 10(1) of the AfCFTA Agreement). It also guides member states on the Action Plan for Boosting Intra-African Trade (BIAT). Crucially, the Assembly has the exclusive authority to adopt interpretations of the AfCFTA Agreement on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers (Article 10(2) of the AfCFTA Agreement).

Known formally as “the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Union” (Article 1 of the Constitutive Act of the African Union), the Assembly consists, as its name indicates, of all Heads of State and Government of the AU or their duly accredited representatives (id. Article 6(1)). This supreme organ of the AU meets at least once a year in ordinary session (id. Article 6(2)-(3)).

AU member states elect among them a Head of State or Government to hold the Office of the Chairman of the Assembly. The last five Presidents to chair the AU are Azali Assoumani (the Comoros, 2023-2024), Macky Sall (Senegal, 2022-2023), Felix Antoine Tshisekedi (Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2021-2022), Cyril Ramaphosa (South Africa, 2020-2021), and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (Egypt, 2019-2020).

Council of Ministers (Articles 9 and 11): The Council of Ministers consists of Ministers responsible for trade or other designated officials from each state party (Article 11(1) of the AfCFTA Agreement). It reports to the AU Assembly through the Executive Council (id. Article 11(2); and Article 13(2) of the AU Constitutive Act). Key functions include taking decisions under the the AfCFTA Agreement, ensuring its implementation, approving work programs and budgets of the Agreement, and making recommendations for authoritative interpretations of the Agreement (Article 11(3) of the AfCFTA Agreement). The Council meets twice annually.

Committee of Senior Trade Officials (Articles 9 and 12): This Committee of Senior Trade Officials comprises permanent or principal secretaries or other designated officials from each member state (Article 12(1) of the AfCFTA Agreement). Members of the Committee also represent the RECs, in an advisory capacity (id. Article 12(5)). The Committee implements decisions of the Council of Ministers, develops programs and action plans, monitors the AfCFTA Agreement’s operation, and establishes subcommittees (id. Article 12(2)). Notably, the Agreement empowers the Committee to direct the Secretariat to undertake specific assignments (Article 12(2)(f)). The Committee meets at least twice yearly and submits reports with recommendations to the Council of Ministers.

Secretariat (Articles 9 and 13): The Secretariat is an autonomous AU body with a legal personality and mandate independent from the AU (Article 13(3)-(4) of the AfCFTA Agreement). As the administrative organ of the AfCFTA, the Secretariat coordinates the implementation of the Agreement.[55] The Secretariat’s roles and responsibilities in supporting the AfCFTA are determined by the Council of Ministers. Its funding comes from the AU budget.

The AU Assembly officially commissioned the Secretariat building on August 17th, 2020. Headquartered in Accra, Ghana’s capital, the Secretariat is composed of a Secretary-General, a Deputy Secretary-General, and several directorates.[56] Elected by the AU Assembly in February 2020 and sworn in on March 19th, 2020, for a four-year term, Wamkele Mene (from South Africa) serves as the first and incumbent Secretary-General.

4.2. Trade in Goods

The Protocol to the AfCFTA Agreement on Trade in Goods (‘Goods Protocol’) principally aims to “create a liberalised market for trade in goods” (Article 2(1) of the Goods Protocol). To accomplish this aim, the Goods Protocol pursues the specific objective of boosting intra-African commerce through several modes (Article 2(2)):

The Protocol’s provisions cover areas like tariff concessions, rules of origin, customs cooperation, non-tariff and technical barriers, trade facilitation, and remedies, and transit (Article 3 and Annexes 1-9). At its core, the Goods Protocol places duties on states to lower and remove trade barriers. Through MFN and national treatment, the Goods Protocol prevents member states from discriminating against one another (Articles 4-5). It obliges them to progressively eliminate import duties on originating goods, as per the member states’ schedules of concessions (Articles 7-8 of the Goods Protocol). And it forbids members from imposing quantitative restrictions on imports and exports among them, and only allows export duties with conditions (Articles 9-10).

In similar vein, the Goods Protocol establishes processes for identifying, categorizing, monitoring, and eliminating non-tariff barriers (Article 12). It permits member states to extend preferential treatment to products originating from any member state (Article 13). The Protocol also stresses trade facilitation, enhances customs cooperation, streamlines procedures, and eases cross-border traffic and transit (Articles 14-16).

Institutionally, the AfCFTA Agreement has tasked the Council of Ministers with the responsibility to institute a Trade in Goods Committee, which oversees Protocol’s implementation under that Council (Article 11(3)(f) of the AfCFTA Agreement, and Article 31 of the Goods Protocol). The Protocol also permits trade remedies, particularly anti-dumping duties and countervailing measures to counter unfair trade, and safeguards measures (Articles 17-20).

4.3. Trade in Services

Like the Goods Protocol, the Protocol to the AfCFTA Agreement on Trade in Services (‘the Services Protocol’) strives to form a continental liberalized single market. But, unlike the Goods Protocol, the Services Protocol directly applies to services (Article 2(1)-(2), read together with Article 1(p) of the Services Protocol), and not goods. The Services Protocol covers all services sectors and modes of supply, except government procurement and air traffic rights (Sub-Articles 2(1)-(2) and 2(4)-(5)).

For the purposes of realizing its principal objective of creating an African single market for services, the Services Protocol seeks to hit several specific objectives (Article 3(2)):

Again, like the Goods Protocol, the Services Protocol oblige states to avoid discriminating against one another. The Services Protocol consecrates MFN (Article 4) and national treatment (Article 20), while allowing flexibility to maintain existing preferences.

Liberalization will progress through successive rounds of negotiations and regulatory cooperation organized by sectors, guided by a list of priority sectors (Article 18). Member states schedule commitments, stipulating market access conditions, national treatment limitations, and additional commitments (Articles 19 and 22). The Protocol allows modifying commitments after 3 years, subject to compensation to any member state affected by such modification (Article 23). The Services Protocol embodies GATS-type exceptions to safeguard public morals, privacy, security, and taxation policy space (Articles 15-16).

Article 11(3)(f) of the AfCFTA Agreement mandates the Council of Ministers to institute under it a Committee on Trade in Services to administer how members implement the Services Protocol (Article 26). The Protocol requires members to adopt measures to train and build the capacity of certain stakeholders. Technical assistance and capacity building must support domestic service sectors, especially micro, small, and medium suppliers, as well as women and youth service suppliers, in seizing the opportunities opened and offered by the AfCFTA (Article 27).

4.4. Dispute Settlement

Article 2 of the Protocol on Rules and Procedures on the Settlement of Disputes (‘the Disputes Protocol’) enacts the dispute settlement mechanism envisaged in Article 20 of the AfCFTA Agreement. The Disputes Protocol applies to disputes between member states concerning their rights and duties under the AfCFTA Agreement (Article 3(1) of the Disputes Protocol).

Panels, the Appellate Body (AB), and the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) must interpret the provisions of the AfCFTA Agreement according to “the customary rules of interpretation of public international law, including the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties” (Article 30, read with Article 4(1), of the Disputes Protocol). While interpreting the Agreement, these three organs must bear in mind that, in passing the Disputes Protocol, the AU Assembly sought to ensure transparency, accountability, predictability, fairness, and consistency with the AfCFTA Agreement (Articles 2 and 4(1) of the Disputes Protocol).

In a manner that mimics the dispute settlement fora of the WTO, the Disputes Protocol provides for panels, an Appellate Body (AB), and a Dispute Settlement Body (DSB). The DSB administers cases before panels and the AB (Article 5 of the Disputes Protocol); and the standing seven-member AB hears appeals from panel rulings (Article 20).

Detailed rules govern procedures such as panels, appeals, third parties, information confidentiality, expert reviews, and interim reports, among others (Articles 6-18 of the Disputes Protocol). The standard panel process shall not exceed 5 months (Article 15(4)).

Resolving disputes under the Protocol formally starts with consultations: The complaining party initiates the process when it requests consultations (Articles 3(3), 6(1), and 7). When consultations fail, the dispute may proceed to panel stage when either party asks the Chairperson of the DSB to establish a panel (Articles 6(2) and 9). Ultimately, the matter may end up before the AB (Articles 20-23).

When a panel or the AB rules that a measure contravenes the AfCFTA Agreement, it shall recommend that the member concerned align the measure with the Agreement (Article 23). After a panel or the AB produces a report reflecting the views of most of its members, the DSB must adopt those reports, without prejudice to the rights of members to express their views on the reports (Articles 15(9), 19(4), and 22(8)-(9)).

Member states must comply with DSB’s recommendations and rulings (Articles 24(1) and 25(1)), with recourse to compensation and suspension of concessions, if needed, to fully implement those recommendations and rulings (Article 25). The Secretariat provides secretarial, administrative, and legal support under the DSB (Article 29).

State Parties may also voluntarily choose arbitration for resolving disputes instead of DSB settlement, provided they mutually agree on procedures to follow in the arbitration proceedings (Article 27(1)). The parties must abide by the arbitration award, which they must notify to the DSB (Article 27(5)). The DSB can authorize enforcement of resulting arbitral awards in the same manner the DSB monitors and enforce compliance with its rulings and recommendations (Article 27(7)).

4.5. Remedies

The AfCFTA Agreement offers three types of remedies: anti-dumping duties, countervailing measures, and safeguards. Detailed rules in Annex 9 to the Goods Protocol and the AfCFTA Guidelines on Implementation of Trade Remedies make sure that members conform to the WTO’s standards on trade remedies (see Articles 18, 19(2), and 20). The Goods Protocol allows state parties to apply anti-dumping and countervailing duties to address unfair trade practices (Article 17). State parties have agreed to cooperate on investigations involving dumping, subsidies, or import surges (see Articles 19(1) and 20 of the Goods Protocol).

Specifically, members may impose anti-dumping duties where imports are underpriced and injure domestic industries. Countervailing duties can offset foreign subsidies conferring trade advantages to firms from the subsidizing state. Safeguard actions temporarily restrict imports facing serious injury from import surges, subject to compensation.

However, contrary to the WTO Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM Agreement), neither the AfCFTA Agreement nor its protocols prohibit subsidies. The SCM Agreement prohibits specific subsidies whereas the AfCFTA trading regime does not, regardless of whether the subsidies are specific or nonspecific. More precisely, Article 17(1) of the Services Protocol stipulates that “[n]othing in this Protocol shall be construed to prevent State Parties from using subsidies in relation to their development programmes.” Rather than prohibit subsidies, the Services Protocol merely authorizes parties affected by subsidies of fellow members to request consultations with them, and it urges parties to accord such requests “sympathetic consideration” (Article 17(3)). (Akinkugbe nonetheless believes that, unlike regional mechanisms, consultations offer member states a realistic chance of engaged with the Disputes Protocol.[57]) In short, while the AfCFTA Agreement permits countervailing measures, it does not outlaw subsidies.

The absence of any prohibition on subsidies, specific or otherwise, distinguishes the AfCFTA from the WTO. Given the prominence that subsidies, alongside dumping issues, occupy in WTO litigation, this absence of prohibition may severely weaken the AfCFTA by leaving a major loophole that members could exploit to afford their domestic firms and industries a competitive edge over their counterparts in other member states. Over time, this may prove the AfCFTA’s Achilles’ heel.

5. The Challenges

The bottlenecks faced by the AfCFTA fall into several key areas: policy and structure, implementation, distributional effects, and potential adverse impacts on certain sectors and countries.

5.1. Policy and Structure

The AfCFTA aims to eliminate tariffs and non-tariff barriers, but to succeed it would need to tackle several other measures, including mitigating short-term fiscal adjustment costs, reviving national development banks, and strengthening the security and development nexus.[58] Implementing the AfCFTA calls for coordination and cooperation among multiple stakeholders, both at the local and continental levels, which presents challenges in terms of governance, institutional capacity, and resource allocation. Put another way, the AfCFTA grapples with issues of accountability, capacity, and efficiency. Harmonizing and rationalizing trade procedures are necessary to boost intra-African commerce, but inefficiencies in trade procedures, such as the number of documents required for imports and border compliance, negatively affect trade flows.

5.1.1. Implementation

The long history of efforts to integrate economies in Africa is paved with hefty goals, but little implementation. For instance, at the February 17th-18th, 2024 AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Rwandan President Paul Kagame complained that he only achieved a few of the goals that, in 2016, his peers had mandated him to carry out as part of the AU governance plan. Despite spending 5 million US dollars on the planned reform of AU governance, he hardly accomplished any of the goals. At the same summit, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, deplored that “over the last three years 2021, 2022, and 2023, 93% of the decisions have not been implemented.” In other words, the AU – which administers the AfCFTA (see ‘Key Objectives and Institutions’ above) – has a disturbingly low policy implementation rate of only 7%. Against that backdrop, implementation may constitute the AfCFTA’s biggest hurdle.

Implementing the AfCFTA successfully hinges on African states not only ratifying the Agreement but also fully complying with its provisions and investing in necessary enablers, such as infrastructure and procedural improvements. The lack of infrastructure, including roads and ports, significantly impedes the AfCFTA from operating effectively.[59]

In addition, the AfCFTA needs to manage its potential adverse fiscal revenue impact,[60] and it must put in motion mechanisms for monitoring and ensuring a level playing field. In this respect, the absence of prohibition on any sort of subsidies raises a red flag, as subsidies tend to skew the playing field and the market.

5.1.2. Who Gets What?

While the AfCFTA has the potential to increase welfare significantly, there are concerns about potential adverse distributional effects, including higher income inequality and transitional unemployment.[61] This matter deserves rapt attention because the neoliberal character of the AfCFTA will likely result in wider income disparities,[62] on a continent that already hosts the world’s two most unequal nations: South Africa and Namibia. Moreover, the diverse membership of the AfCFTA, including least-developed, landlocked, and small-island countries, poses huge obstacles in achieving win-win outcomes and fairness.[63]

5.1.3. Sectoral and Country-Specific Challenges

Certain sectors and countries may run into difficulties in adjusting to the liberalization of trade, particularly those that rely heavily on protectionist measures or have limited competitiveness. Nigeria, as one of the leading economies in Africa, has expressed misgivings about becoming a dumping ground for finished goods and has advocated for rules-based integration.

5.1.4. Solutions and Catalysts

Assessing the AfCFTA based on these challenges, it clearly emerges that implementing the AfCFTA successfully and reaping its fruits require tackling these challenges head-on. While the continent-wide trade area opens golden opportunities for growing and diversifying economies, as well as reducing poverty, it also demands comprehensive policy reforms, infrastructure development, and institutional capacity building.

To maximize the benefits of the AfCFTA, member countries need to invest in infrastructure, particularly in transport corridors and logistics, to facilitate trade flows.[64] Members also need to reduce non-tariff barriers, streamline trade procedures, and improve the business climate to enhance intra-African commerce. Additionally, they should install mechanisms for monitoring implementation, achieving fairness, and managing potential adverse distributional effects.

Furthermore, the roadblocks on the AfCFTA’s way highlight the importance of genuine commitment. Stakeholders must show sustained commitment to regional coordination and sustainable development and engage with their external partners to achieve the shared vision of a more integrated and prosperous Africa.[65] The AfCFTA should be seen as a catalyst for broader economic reforms and structural transformation, rather than a standalone solution.

6. 6. Research and Bibliography

6.1. How to Research AfCFTA

Embarking on scholarly research on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) calls on researchers to nuance their perspective on the complexity of the AfCFTA Agreement and to approach the task deftly and methodologically. The AfCFTA, by its nature, is a broad canvas painted with the strokes of legal, economic, and policy-related issues. Therefore, researchers wishing to delve into the intricacies of the AfCFTA must arm themselves with a diverse set of qualitative research methods, an interpretative lens for policy analysis, and a comparative eye for understanding its place within the global context of trade agreements.

6.1.1. Understanding the Research Landscape

Before engaging in the empirical study of the AfCFTA, researchers must first grasp the broader economics and politics in which the AfCFTA Agreement evolves. This entails reviewing the existing literature comprehensively and systematically, including economic reports, policy documents, scholarly articles, and precedents set by other regional trade agreements.

Most publications on the AfCFTA take on one of four design forms: they estimate, analyze, review, or discuss. The two most common forms (i.e., estimations and analyses) concentrate on the effects of the AfCFTA. For instance, Amire & Ogunseye use panel data to analyze trade flows for selected AfCFTA members between 2005 and 2019.[66] Many other researchers aim to review the literature on the AfCFTA, focusing on computable general equilibrium (CGE) model-based studies.[67]

In addition, the scholarship on the AfCFTA centers on three concepts, namely trade, regional integration, and economic growth. This also goes to show that the bulk of that scholarship comes from the field of economics or political economy. For instance, Leshoele zooms in on regional integration and investigates why ‘regionalism theory’ – a concept used in international relations – could help experts dissect and understand the AfCFTA.[68]

Researchers should assess the current state of discourse surrounding the AfCFTA to identify gaps in knowledge that their work could fill. A thorough literature review will also reveal the theoretical frameworks previously applied to similar agreements, which can serve as a foundation for analyzing the AfCFTA.

6.1.2. Approaching the Text of the Agreement

The core of any research on the AfCFTA will invariably involve closely examining the text of the AfCFTA treaty itself. You should proceed from the general to the specific. The outline of the AfCFTA Agreement presented in Section 4.1.1. above is a good starting point. The close reading of the Agreement’s text also necessitates a detailed content analysis to discern the legal commitments, operational guidelines, and institutional frameworks established by that agreement. Researchers must interpret the language of the treaty, considering the implications of its provisions for member states and their economies. In doing so, they can uncover the underlying economic strategies and legal principles that shape the AfCFTA’s structure.

6.1.3. Engaging with Economics

The economic nature of the theories that guide international trade and the AfCFTA makes economics in conducting research on the AfCFTA inevitable. Indeed, the economic rationale behind the AfCFTA constitutes a vital area of inquiry.

Researchers should explore the expected trade benefits, the potential for industrialization, the implementation challenges, and the prospects for economic diversification within member states. This investigation expects that researchers possess a solid grasp of economics and integration theories, and to apply those theories to the unique contexts of Africa. Engaging with data on trade flows, tariff structures, and economic performance indicators will back up theoretical insights with empirical evidence.

Researchers can borrow from the field of law and economics to analyze the AfCFTA through the lens of institutional economics, which emphasizes the role of institutions in shaping economic behavior and outcomes. The AfCFTA Agreement itself is a set of institutions that provide a legal framework for trade liberalization and dispute resolution among African countries. By establishing clear rules and procedures, the AfCFTA seeks to reduce transaction costs and provide certainty for businesses operating within the African market.

Furthermore, researchers can examine the AfCFTA from a law and economics perspective in terms of its potential impact on competition and market structure. Removing trade barriers and creating a single market can lead to increased competition among firms, which can have both positive and negative effects. On one hand, increased competition can drive innovation, improve efficiency, and lower prices for consumers. On the other hand, it can also lead to market concentration and the emergence of dominant firms that may engage in anti-competitive practices. Therefore, a person researching the AfCFTA may need to link competition policy and regulatory frameworks to ascertain the fairness of competition and market abuses.

6.1.4. Employing a Qualitative Paradigm

Despite the prominence of economics in the scholarship on the AfCFTA, qualitative research is particularly well-suited for studying the AfCFTA due to the depth of understanding it offers. Techniques such as interviews with policymakers, focus groups with business leaders, and case studies of individual member states can yield rich, contextual data. Such methods allow researchers to explore the perceptions, experiences, and expectations of various stakeholders regarding the AfCFTA’s implementation and impact.

6.1.5. Interpreting Policy Documents

Policy analysis is a cornerstone of research on the AfCFTA. Researchers must sift through a vast array of policy documents, including official communications from the AfCFTA Secretariat, national implementation strategies, and reports from economic bodies. Interpreting these documents requires an analytical approach that can discern the intended objectives, identify the strategies employed to achieve these objectives, and evaluate the effectiveness of such strategies.

6.1.6. Comparative Analysis

A comparative approach can provide valuable insights into the AfCFTA’s uniqueness and its commonalities with other trade agreements. Researchers should look at how the AfCFTA compares with other regional and continental trade agreements in terms of structure, success factors, and hurdles faced. This analysis will also involve comparing the economic outcomes and integration processes of the AfCFTA with those of other trade blocs.

6.1.7. Case Studies

Carrying out case studies is an effective way to investigate what the AfCFTA practically implies for for individual member states or individual sectors. Researchers could select specific countries or sectors within countries to study how the agreement is being implemented and its effects on the ground. These case studies can illustrate the successes and obstacles encountered, providing a microcosmic view of the AfCFTA’s overall impact.

6.1.8. Analyzing Implementation Challenges

An important facet of researching the AfCFTA is the foray into the stumbling blocks that the trade area encounters. These include infrastructure deficits, tariff negotiation complexities, and political barriers to implementation. Researchers must approach these challenges critically, considering both internal factors (such as member states’ domestic policies) and external factors (like global economic trends) that influence the AfCFTA’s operational success.

6.1.9. Research Ethics and Context Sensitivity

While conducting research on the AfCFTA, researchers must adhere to the highest standards of ethics, ensuring that their work is respectful of the diverse cultural and socio-economic contexts of African nations. It is essential to approach the research with an awareness of the historical and contemporary issues that shape economic policy and trade in Africa.

6.1.10. Informing Theory, Policymaking, and Practice

Researchers must consider how their work can inform policy decisions, aid stakeholders in maximizing the benefits of the AfCFTA, and contribute to the academic discourse on trade integration. This involves not just the publication of results in scholarly journals but also engaging with policy forums, economic summits, and stakeholder meetings to ensure that research insights reach the intended audience.

To recap, researching the AfCFTA is a multifaceted task that demands a comprehensive methodological toolkit. It requires an integration of theory and practice, an understanding of the complex economic and legal landscape, and a sensitivity to the diverse contexts of the African continent. Through meticulous and ethical scholarship, researchers can provide valuable contributions to the understanding and implementation of this monumental trade agreement.

6.2. Bibliography

6.2.1. Online Resources

6.2.2. Printed Resources

[1] See also Hippolyte Fofack & Andrew Mold, The AfCFTA and African Trade: An Introduction to the Special Issue, 8 Journal of African Trade 1 (2021).

[2] Guillaume Gérout et al., The AfCFTA as yet Another Experiment Towards Continental Integration, in Inclusive Trade in Africa: The African Continental Free Trade Area in Comparative Perspective 15 (David Luke & Jamie MacLeod eds., 2019).

[3] Id. at 15 and 17-19.

[4] Id. at 15.

[5] Id. at 15 and 19-21,

[6] Id. at 15-16 and 21-24.

[7] Decision (Assembly/AU/Dec.394 (XVIII)) on the Establishment of a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) by the indicative date of 2017 and the Action Plan on Boosting Intra-Africa Trade (BIAT). See also Gérout et al., supra note 2, at 15-16.

[8] Gérout et al., supra note 2, at 16 and 24-26.

[9] Maryla Maliszewska et al., Paper from the GTAP Annual Conference on Global Economic Analysis, The African Continental Free Trade Area: Economic and Distributional Effects (Apr. 15, 2020), (last visited Dec. 24, 2023).

[10] For classic publications on African Renaissance, see Thabo Mbeki, Prologue to Malegapuru William Makgoba ed., African Renaissance: The New Struggle (1999); Thabo Mbeki, Africa: The Time Has Come 31-36 (1998) (reproducing Mbeki’s famous ‘I Am an African’ speech); and Cheikh Anta Diop, Towards the African Renaissance: Essays in African Culture and Development (1996).

[11] See also Peter Lunenborg, ‘Phase 1B’ of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Negotiations 13 (South Centre, Policy Brief No. 63, 2019), (last visited Dec. 24, 2023).

[12] Koffi Aseye Makafui Elitcha et al., Deepening the AfCFTA: Celebrating the Adoption of New Protocols on Investment, Intellectual Property and Competition Policy, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Blog (Mar. 16, 2023),

[13] See Roberto Echandi et al., Making the Most of the African Continental Free Trade Area: Leveraging Trade and Foreign Direct Investment to Boost Growth and Reduce Poverty 1, 8-9 (2022); Elitcha et al., supra note 12; and David Luke, Making the Case for the African Continental Free Trade Area, in Inclusive Trade in Africa: The African Continental Free Trade Area in Comparative Perspective 5, 5 (David Luke & Jamie MacLeod eds., 2019).

[14] See African Union (AU), Operational Phase of the African Continental Free Trade Area Launched, See also Dunia P. Zongwe, Demystifying the Law and Technology Behind the Pan-African Pay System, AU ECHO, 2023, at 62.

[15] Afreximbank Press Release, Afreximbank Launches Africa Trade Gateway, A Single Window for Digital Services (Jun. 26, 2023),,mandate%20by%20providing%20critical%20services (last visited Dec. 3, 2023). For a study of the AfCFTA Agreement’s provisions on digital trade, see Karishma Banga et al., Digital Trade Provisions in the AfCFTA: What Can We Learn From South-South Trade Agreements?, (Supporting Economic Transformation, Working Paper Series ODI, 2021).

[16] Pavithra Rao, AfCFTA’s Guided Trade Initiative Takes Off, Set to Ease and Boost Intra-African Trade, Africa Renewal (Oct. 12, 2022) (last visited Dec. 24, 2023).

[17] Decision (Assembly/AU/Dec.394 (XVIII)) on the Establishment of a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) by the indicative date of 2017 and the Action Plan on Boosting Intra-Africa Trade (BIAT).

[18] Decision on the Launch of Continental Free Trade Area Negotiations Doc. Assembly/AU/11(XXV) Decision No: Assembly/AU/Dec. 569(XXV).

[19] Afreximbank Press Release, supra note 15.

[20] See Trade Law Centre (TRALAC), Status of AfCFTA Ratification (Sept. 6, 2023),

[21] Id.

[22] Fofack & Mold, supra note 1, at 1, 2.

[23] See Hippolyte Fofack, Africa’s Quest for a Bigger Role in Global Markets, International Trade Forum , Dec. 19, 2019, at 32, 33; Fofack & Mold, supra note, at 2.

[24] See Andrea Cofelice, African Continental Free Trade Area: Opportunities and Challenges, The Federalist Debate, Nov. 2018, at 32.

[25] See Echandi et al., supra note 13, at ix, 1, 4-5, 20-21, 40.

[26] Luke, supra note 13, at 7.

[27] See Echandi et al., supra note 13, at x, 1; and Hippolyte Fofack, Making the AfCFTA Work for ‘The Africa We Want’ 2 (Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings, Working Paper, 2020).

[28] Luke, supra note 13, at 5, 6-7, 10.

[29] Id.; and Fofack, Making the AfCFTA Work, supra note 27, at 7, 11.

[30] Luke, supra note 13, at 5.

[31] Jonas Böschemeier et al., AfCFTA in a Rut – Can the Pan-African Agreement Regain Momentum? 49-54 (2022).

[32] Luke, supra note 13, at 5.

[33] Fofack & Mold, supra note 1, at 6.

[34] Fofack, Making the AfCFTA Work, supra note 27, at 2 and 5-14.

[35] Philomena Apiko et al., The Promise of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) (Political Economy Dynamics of Regional Organisations in Africa (PEDRO), Discussion Paper No. 287, 2020).

[36] David Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy, and Taxation 136-137 (1821).

[37] Paul R. Krugman et al., International Economics: Theory and Policy 54 (11th ed. 2018).

[38] Ricardo, supra note 36, at 139 (affirming that “[u]nder a system of perfectly free commerce, each country naturally devotes its capital and labour to such employments as are most beneficial to each. This pursuit of individual advantage is admirably connected with the universal good of the whole.”); see also id. at 136-137.

[39] See A. Simola et al., Potential Effects of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on African Agri-Food Sectors and Food Security (2021).

[40] Julien Gourdon et al., Closing in on Harmonizing Rules of Origin for AfCFTA: Anatomy of Reconciliations and Remaining Challenges 5 (International Trade Centre, Working Paper, 2021).

[41] See Krugman et al., supra note 37, at 39-41.

[42] Jan Tinbergen, Shaping the World Economy: Suggestions for an International Economic Policy 262-263 (1962).

[43] See Echandi et al., supra note 13, at 1, 8-9; Elitcha et al., supra note 12; and Luke, supra note 13, at 5.

[44] See Echandi et al., supra note 13, at 13, and 37-63.

[45] See id. at 43.

[46] Bela Balassa, The Theory of Economic Integration 1 (1961).

[47] See also Balassa, supra note 46, at 14 (using ‘efficiency’ as the overarching criterion for evaluating the effects of economic integration).

[48] Other flagship projects of Agenda 2063 include the Integrated High-Speed Train Network, the Grand Inga Dam, the Single African Air-Transport Market, the African Virtual & e-University, and the Great African Museum.

[49] See Article 3(a) of the African Continent Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement.

[50] On the Continental Customs Union, see Dunia P. Zongwe & Paul S. Masumbe, The African Customs Union, Infant Industry Protection, and Self-Centred Development, 34 Speculum Juris 92 (2020).

[51] See also Article 5 of the Protocol on Trade in Services (‘the Services Protocol’) and Article 2 of the Protocol on Rules and Procedures on the Settlement of Disputes (‘the Disputes Protocol’).

[52] See also Article 4 of the Protocol on Trade in Goods (‘the Goods Protocol’) and Article 4 of the Services Protocol.

[53] See also Article 5 of the Goods Protocol and Article 20 of the Services Protocol.

[54] See Article 11(3)(i) of the AfCFTA Agreement.

[55] See AfCFTA Secretariat, The Secretariat – AfCFTA, (last visited Jan. 2, 2024).

[56] See id.

[57] Olabisi D. Akinkugbe, Dispute Settlement Under the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement: A Preliminary Assessment, 28 African Journal of International & Comparative Law 138 (2020).

[58] Fofack, Making the AfCFTA Work, supra note 27, at 2.

[59] Lisandro Abrego et al., The African Continental Free Trade Area: Potential Economic Impact and Challenges 25-26 (IMF Staff Discussion No. SDN/20/04, 2020).

[60] See id. at 24-25.

[61] Id. at 22-24.

[62] To learn about the inequalities and miseries that neoliberalism has inflicted in countries around the globe, see David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2010); Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2008); and Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century (Arthur Goldhammer trans., Harvard University Press 2014).

[63] Ayodele Haruna Mustapha & D. Adetoye, Nigeria and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA): Issues, Challenges, and Prospect, 7 Advances in Social Sciences Research Journal 237, 244 (2020).

[64] Abrego et al., supra note 59, at 27.

[65] See Fofack & Mold, supra note 1, at 7.

[66] See, e.g., Comfort M. Amire & Timothy O. Ogunseye, International Trade Flows and Sustainable Development, 7 AE-Funai Journal of Accounting, Business and Finance 58 (2020) (analyzing how international trade flows impact the sustainable development of AfCFTA member countries).

[67] See Simola et al., supra note 39.

[68] Moorosi Leshoele, AfCTA and Regional Integration in Africa: Is African Union Government a Dream Deferred or Denied?, 38 Journal of Contemporary African Studies 2, 4 (2020).