THE AFRICAN CONTINENTAL FREE TRADE AREA (AFCFTA) AND REGIONAL ECONOMIC INTEGRATION: PROSPECTS AND CHALLENGES
Keywords:Africa, AfCFTA, AEC, African Union, Regionalism and Integration
The objective of this paper is to examine the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) of the African Union (AU) and to assess the challenges and prospects for regional integration in Africa in a post covid-19 era. The paper, which is qualitative in its approach, argues that the number of states accepting regional economic integration initiative such as the AfCFTA is one of the major features of globalization whose benefits have not been distributed equally. It also argues that though the AfCFTA is a pillar and beacon of continental wide integration in form of an African Economic Community (AEC) envisaged in the Abuja Treaty, however, the adoption of unrealistic and unfeasible timelines for implementation of the AEC pose serious challenges to regional integration for Africa. Regional integration in Africa seeks to transform Africa by addressing the fragmentation and division brought about by colonialism, and to promote unity and African development. While the AU argues that AfCFTA will boost intraAfrican economic integration through increased trade and investment, the extent to which African states would reap the benefits of the free trade area remains unclear. Numerous challenges that currently affect intra-African trade include, but not limited to, the low levels of development of African economies and their excessive dependence on primary commodity production and exports, protectionist trade policies, weak infrastructure, and high security risks. The outbreak of novel corona virus (COVID 19) pandemic threatens to reverse the gains made towards take-off of the AfCFTA as African countries have diverted attention towards mitigation and containment of the spread of the virus in their individual countries. The reluctance of some African states such as Nigeria to sign the AfCFTA shows that not all African states are convinced that the promised continental benefits of free trade would align with their national interests. Some countries perceive the AfCFTA as a re-introduction of the earlier rejected contentious European Union’s Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The paper concludes that while most African countries may have signed the agreement, the implications on national economies would be considered by many before and even after ratification. It recommends that the African Union should protect the vital interests of member states by commissioning in-depth studies and to carry out further enlightenments on the AfCFTA. This will go a long way in transforming Africa’s trade potentials to benefits for the growth and development of member states.
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