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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 11th July 2019

Africa makes trade peace not war

Blue Lines

Disbelief was ostentatiously suspended when heads of state gathered at the African Union summit in Niamey to proclaim a new era of cooperation with the full launching of the African continental free trade area (ACFTA) on 8 July. After winning over Nigeria, almost in extra time, the pact's promoters managed to get all the 55 member states of the union on board, except for Eritrea.

The numbers – a market of 1.3 billion people, worth an estimated US$3.4 trillion – look compelling, but in the short term the proclamation of the ACFTA will change little but aspirations. Two realities dominate the agenda: an impressive number of political speed bumps; and the need for gradualism and painstaking commercial diplomacy.

For now, the main task will be to get the regional economic communities to work much better. Only in the East African Community has there been much convergence towards a single market in goods and services.

More diversified economies such as South Africa, Kenya and Morocco will have a greater incentive to push for cutting tariffs and opening up markets for their exports. In the case of South Africa and Kenya, they will put more pressure on the regional economic groupings that they already dominate in southern and east Africa. Morocco's market strategy is undermined by its cold war with Algeria, and Nigerian manufacturers remain sceptical about any short-term benefits from the treaty.