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African Experts discuss Continental Free Trade Agreement

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TradeExperts from seven African regional economic commissions, AUC, AfDB, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), academia, research institutions and civil society have met to discuss the possible structure and content of a Continental Free Trade Area agreement (CFTA).

The meeting which was hosted in the Ivorian capital Abidjan by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in collaboration with the African Union (AU) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), was to prepare a draft CFTA agreement, part of preparations towards the launch of negotiations for the CFTA.

The continental free trade area is one of the key milestones under the AU Agenda 2063.

In 2012, African leaders adopted a decision to establish a continental free trade area and to boost intra-continental trade, subsequently agreeing in 2015, to formally launch negotiations on the Continental Free Trade Area Agreement in February 2016.

According to a statement issued by the ECA, the meeting reviewed the experience of the Regional Economic Commissions in trade liberalization and potential lessons for the continental free trade area: negotiating principles, objectives and institutional framework of the CFTA negotiations, trade remedies and liberalization of trade, modalities for eliminating import duties, technical barriers and non-tariff barriers, quantitative restrictions and rules of origin, customs cooperation, dispute settlement and so on.

The statement indicates that representatives from the AU, the ECA, African Development Bank and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD),have emphasized the importance of the meeting in relation to the technical preparations for the CFTA negotiations.

It was noted, particularly, that the CFTA is a huge and complex institutional and legal structure, which is expected to include all the 54 AU member states.

“For the CFTA to be established by the target date of 2017, negotiations will need to be conducted effectively and concluded expeditiously. It was within the framework of providing technical support to the CFTA Negotiating Forum and facilitating the process of the CFTA negotiations, therefore, that the CFTA Task Force requested input from the expert group.”

“The group agreed on a proposed outline of the CFTA agreement and follow-up work to prepare a working draft for an initial exchange of views ahead of the first substantive CFTA trade-negotiating forum in April 2016”, the ECA said.

By Emmanuel Odonkor

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