Abidjan — The African Development Bank has concluded a two-day Expert Group Meeting on ‘Continental Free Trade Area’ held in February 2-3, 2016 in Abidjan.
The meeting, which attracted stakeholders and experts, including the Regional Economic Communities, academics, and research-based institutions, was organized by the Bank, in collaboration with the African Union (AU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
It is part of a series of preparatory activities for the formal launch of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) Negotiations, under the guidance of the AU. The CFTA Road Map has 2017 as the provisional time frame to conclude the negotiations. The CFTA is tasked with fostering freer and improved intra-African trade performance and deepening integration on the continent.
At the AU Summit in January 2012, African leaders adopted the decisions on “Boosting Intra-African Trade (BIAT)” and “the establishment of the CFTA”. The Decisions on the BIAT and the CFTA were taken against the backdrop of concerns over the poor trade performance within the continent and the urgent need to develop modalities to fast-track the creation of a free-trade area.
Following a flurry of preparatory activities under the guidance of the Continental Task Force on the CFTA, the Heads of State at their Summit in Johannesburg in July 2015, adopted another decision formally launching negotiations on the CFTA. Formal negotiations will commence in February 2016. The CFTA is one of the fast-track initiatives and a key milestone under the AU Agenda 2063.
The Expert Group is tasked with preparing a preliminary draft of the CFTA Agreement to serve as the framework for negotiations. The idea is for negotiators to work on a single draft to avoid delays that could arise if the member-states are obliged to deal with multiple texts on the subject. This would accelerate the negotiations. The contributions and recommendations of the expert group will be channeled to the Task Force for further considerations.
The two-day meeting is expected to produce preliminary outlines for the CFTA agreement. A detailed plan and timeline for the development of a full draft agreement and Terms of Reference to guide the preparation of respective sections (e.g. Goods, Services, Intellectual Property) of the agreement will also be produced.
The African Development Bank’s NEPAD, Regional Integration and Trade Department, which has been active in the CFTA preparatory activities, represents the Bank on the Continental Task Force on the Continental Free Trade Area agreement.