The African Continental Free Trade Area

Lusaka, July 03, 2018

Yesterday South Africa joined the long list of African countries that havenow signed the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement. The AfCFTA will see the creation of the world’s biggest free trade area and it is expected that the agreement will yield great benefits for the continent.

At the AU Summit on 22 March 2018, heads of state gathered to sign three documents. Of these three documents presented at the meeting, 44 countries signed the Framework Agreement establishing the AfCFTA; 43 countries signed the Kigali Declaration; and 27 countries signed the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community relating to Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment.

Alongside a number of African countries including South Africa, Zambia did not sign the AfCFTA Agreement and opted to only sign the Kigali Declaration. The Kigali Declaration was a declaratory message reflective of positive political will to launch the Continental Free Trade Area. Most countries including Zambia chose not to sign the AfCFTA agreement as they needed to first undertake consultations with key stakeholders. This is an important part of the process as it is important to not only understand how the AfCFTA will affect Zambia’s different industries, but it is equally important for all economic participants to be aware of AfCFTA is and how it may affect them. While Zambia is in the process of undergoing consultations, South Africa completed this process and therefore signed the AfCFTA this weekend. This is an important development as South Africa is Zambia’s most important trade partner and this could have implications on our trading relationship.

The AfCFTA Agreement however will only come into force when 22 countries have ratified the Agreement and to date, only four countries, namely: Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Niger, have ratified it. Similarly, South Africa will only be able to ratify it once it has gone through its parliament.

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 willextend to investment, competition policy and intellectual property in the second phase.

As the ministry has indicated, it is important that as the African continent embraces free trade, there is need to build productive alliances and the necessary capabilities for industry take advantage of emerging opportunities, while minimizing negative impact. 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.

By Chenai Mukumba, Centre Coordinator (For further information please contact:, Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), at or 097 8055 293)