The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) – Game Changer for Egypt? 

15 November 2022 - Dr. Christian Ule & Sophie Greiner

I. Change lies in trade 

With 30.2 million km², around 1.3 billion inhabitants, and a total of 55 countries, Africa is the second largest continent in the world after Asia. Over 50 % of Africa’s population is under 20 years old1; by 2050, one in four new-borns is expected to come from Africa.2 The continent is rich in fertile soils and raw materials such as oil, diamonds, gold, manganese, cobalt, chromium and coltan. Among the world’s fastest growing states are several African countries.3 The potential that the continent holds is enormous.  

In this context, the Republic of Egypt plays a special role as an economic heavyweight: the country extends over 1 million km² and is the most industrialised state on the continent after South Africa.4 The Nile, the longest river on earth, connects the state to important transport routes and at the same time provides a stable source of water and food. With the Suez Canal, Egypt also has one of the most important trade routes in the world. Egypt now has 104.7 million inhabitants5, making it the most populous Arab country and the third most populous African country. Egypt is one of the African countries6 that have long maintained trade relations with Europe through economic agreements7 and act as strong and self-confident trading partners. The main destination of Egyptian exports is Europe with 31.1 %8; with 6.3 %, Egypt is Africa’s fifth largest exporter.9 The rapid economic growth is increasingly attracting international investors who are choosing Egypt as a production location for the Middle East and Africa.10 For example, between 2017 and 2020, Egypt recorded the highest share of foreign direct investment in the electronics and electrical industry in Africa, at 21 %, and the second highest share of projects requiring expertise, at 14 %.11 In 2020, the Egyptian economy continued to grow by 3.6 % despite the pandemic-related circumstances. This is even more remarkable given that the economy shrank by 4 % in the Middle East, 1.9 % in Africa, and 3.3 % globally.12 Egypt has put the development of its potential on its agenda since the 1990s and has created several institutions and introduced legislative changes to this end. These include the Law of Investment Guarantees and Incentives No. 72/2017 and the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Law No. 152/2020, which offer a range of incentives and benefits to businesses.13 

At times, however, it can also be observed that Africa is gaining in importance for Western investors. This is shown not least by the “Compact with Africa” initiative adopted in 2017 by the G20, also known as the “Marshall Plan with Africa”, whose focus is on expanding Africa’s economic cooperation with the G20 countries by strengthening private investment.14 Egypt is also one of the countries participating in the initiative.  

Intra-African trade, on the other hand, has so far proved far less effective. The reason for this is, on the one hand, high intra-African tariffs between states that do not belong to a common agreement. Non-tariff barriers (NTBs), such as weak infrastructure, corruption, cumbersome bureaucracy, and non-transparent and inconsistent regulations, should also not be underestimated. They ensure that interregional exports have hardly developed so far. Trade restrictions within Africa are four times higher than in OECD member states.15 This is illustrated by the fact that the average waiting time for customs clearance at intra-African borders is 97 hours, while in Europe it takes only 8 hours on average.16 It is therefore not surprising that, contrary to geographical logic, the interregional export rate in Africa has so far stagnated at a mere 17 %17 and accounts for only 0.36 % of world trade.18 However, a comparison with the interregional exports of the other continents shows that a higher share is certainly achievable: 68 % in Europe, 59 % in Asia and 55 % in North and South America.19 

For a long time, the African Union (AU) had put the creation of a common trade area on its agenda. After more than 30 years of negotiations, the world is now looking forward to the first pan-African trade agreement, which came into force at the beginning of 2021: The African Continental Free Trade Area, or AfCFTA.  

Will this make the dream of an economically prosperous, self-confident, negotiating, and united Africa a reality?  

II. The long road to agreement 

A. Birth of the AfCFTA 

Efforts to create a common trade zone for all African states are not new. As early as the end of the 1970s, the first ideas for a common trade policy were recorded.20 A concrete model was finally born in the Abuja Agreement of 1991, in which the member states of the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) agreed for the first time on a corresponding action plan. With its Article 2, the African Economic Community was founded, which was to be implemented according to a 6-stage plan by 2034.21 

Africa has a total of 3,000 peoples and 2,000 distinct languages, which made coordination among them and the representation of common interests complex. As a result, the project inevitably stalled and more than 20 years had to pass before negotiations resumed for the first time in 2015, paving the way for implementation. 

B. New impetus through the Agenda 2063  

With the Agenda 2063, the project of a joint trade agreement finally got rolling again. It was adopted by all AU member states in 2015 and is an expression of a common vision for Africa’s development for the next 50 years.  

The Agenda 2063 is the first development plan to emanate from the AU. On the one hand, it envisages that the continent’s development will be ensured through inclusive growth, starting from the people, and building on their potential in a sustainable manner. Africa is to be an integrated and politically united continent, characterised by good governance, democracy, human rights, justice, and the rule of law. It will also work towards a peaceful and secure Africa, guided by a common cultural identity, heritage, and values. Africa should stand as a strong, united, and influential actor and partner in global politics in 2063.22 

In doing so, the Agenda 2063 does not only take into account Africa’s continental growth aspirations. To achieve the goals, implementation at the regional and national levels is equally important. At the beginning of the Agenda 2063, the national development plans of the member states as well as the strategic plans of the already existing regional economic communities were reviewed, and the focus of their development priorities was included in the first ten-year plan. 

The AfCFTA is one of the 15 lighthouse projects of the Agenda 2063.23 

C. Four years of final sprint  

With the adoption of Agenda 2063 and the subsequent steps, the seriousness of the endeavour and the political will of the AU became clear. Negotiating forums, guidance documents and working groups finally led to the first draft of the trade agreement and its protocols in 2017. Further drafts followed and the final draft agreement was adopted in the same year.  

About three months later, 44 states signed the treaty. One year later, on 29 April 2019, the time had finally come: with the ratification24 of 24 states, the treaty could finally enter into force after 30 days in accordance with Article 23 of the AfCFTA. Egypt, a long-term supporter of the AfCFTA and a pioneer in the negotiations, was the chair of the AU at that time.25 Due to the corona pandemic, the start date for the implementation of the AfCFTA was postponed from July 2020 to January 2021.  

The European Union has funded the negotiations with 50 million euros between 2018 and 2020; for its part, Germany is supporting the project through the German Agency for International Cooperation (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, GIZ) and the German National Metrology Institute (Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt, PTB), among others.26 

D. Status Quo 

In the meantime,27 54 of Africa’s 55 countries have signed the agreement and 43 have ratified it. Only the East African state of Eritrea has decided not to participate in the free trade area. The AfCFTA office is based in Ghana’s capital, Accra. On 10 February 2020, the South African diplomat Wamkele Mene was elected as the first Secretary General of the African Free Trade Area.28 

In this context, the first Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS) should also be mentioned. Against the backdrop of over 40 existing African currencies, it was established in 2019 by the Afreximbank and the AU and aims to reduce transaction costs in financial flows within Africa as well as ensure the effective implementation of the AfCFTA.29 

The negotiations on the design of the common market are divided into Phase I and Phase II.30 

Phase I is largely completed and leads to the inclusion of the protocols on trade in goods and services and on dispute settlement in the agreement. However, some issues are still open, e.g., rules on originating goods31, lists of tariff concessions or lists of specific commitments for the five priority services sectors. These points (which were originally supposed to be clarified by June 2021) are still being negotiated.32 

Negotiations on investment and competition policy, intellectual property issues, online trade and women and youth in trade are planned for the remaining phase II, the outcome of which will be reflected in further protocols.33 These will then have to be adopted by the AU General Assembly and ratified in accordance with the constitutional rules and procedures of the member states.  

In principle, trade settlements under a trade agreement can only begin once the legal framework has been finally clarified. However, the AU Heads of State and Government agreed in December 2020 that trade in goods for which negotiations have been concluded can begin.34 Under this “transitional arrangement”, after a pandemic-related postponement, the first AfCFTA trade settlement from Ghana to South Africa took place on 4 January 2021 with great media attention.35 

III. Who or what is AfCFTA? 

AfCFTA is a free trade area established by its members, which – except for Eritrea – covers the entire African continent, making it the largest free trade area in the world by number of member states after the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The AfCFTA has the potential to improve Africa’s competitiveness in the medium to long term.  

A. Legal classification  

The AfCFTA is primarily an instrument to enable and promote the free movement of goods. Specifically, it is a so-called preferential trade agreement, which should not be confused with a customs union – such as that of the European Union. In both cases, it is an agreement to eliminate tariffs and NTBs between member states. The difference, however, lies in the trade policy relationship with third countries: While the countries involved retain autonomy over their external tariffs when concluding a trade agreement, the members of a customs union agree on a common external tariff and undertake to negotiate trade agreements with third countries only jointly.36 

The AfCFTA consists of the AfCFTA Framework Agreement as well as protocols, annexes, and appendices, which are negotiated in several phases (see above). The Framework Agreement creates the free trade area with its 30 articles and defines its objectives, process, components, and organs. The protocols on trade in goods, trade in services, and the rules and procedure for the settlement of disputes are already an integral part of the AfCFTA according to Article 8 of the Agreement. Upon ratification by the respective state, the AfCFTA becomes binding for it.37 Egypt was one of the first countries to ratify the agreement.38 

The rights and obligations arising from the agreement only end when the contracting state withdraws from the AfCFTA. According to Article 27 of the agreement, withdrawal is possible at the earliest five years after the entry into force of the agreement and thus at the earliest on 29 May 2024. 

B. Regulatory content of the protocols 

1. Protocol on the Trading of Goods  

The main feature of the AfCFTA is the Protocol on Trade in Goods, which provides for the elimination of 90 % of all intra-African tariffs in all product categories within five years of entry into force. In this context, up to 7 % of products can be classified as sensitive goods, which are subject to a tariff elimination period of ten years. For the least-developed countries (LDCs), the preparation period is extended from five to ten years, and for sensitive products from ten to thirteen years, provided they demonstrate their need. The remaining 3 % of tariffs are completely exempt from tariff dismantling.  

To date, 44 AU member states have submitted their offers for the gradual reduction of tariffs. Of these, 29 have been examined and approved for implementation.39 

Consequently, tariff advantages can only be granted for originating goods from AfCFTA member states. Otherwise, imports from third countries such as Germany could benefit from the negotiated tariff advantages. The rules of origin have so far been agreed upon for 87.7 % of the tariff lines; the concrete design of the remaining 12.3 % of the tariff lines is still the subject of further negotiations.40 

2. Protocol on Trade in Services 

The AfCFTA formulates the rules and principles for the liberalisation of trade in services on the continent in another protocol.  

The AU General Assembly has so far agreed on five priority areas (transport, communications, tourism, financial and business services) and guidelines on the commitments applicable to them.41 47 AU member states have so far submitted their offers for specific commitments and the review of 28 has been completed. In addition, negotiations, for example on the recognition of professional qualifications, are still ongoing.42 

3. Protocol on the Rules and Procedure for the Settlement of Disputes 

With the Protocol on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes, the AfCFTA creates a dispute settlement system modelled on the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding.43 

According to Article 5 of the Protocol, the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) is responsible, inter alia, for administering the AfCFTA Dispute Settlement Protocol and for establishing an Adjudicating Panel (panel) and an Appellate Body (AB). The DSB is composed of a representative of each member state and intervenes in accordance with Article 6 of the Protocol as soon as there are differences of opinion between the contracting states on the interpretation and / or application of the Agreement regarding their rights and obligations. 

The disputing parties must first attempt an amicable settlement under Article 6 of the Protocol. In the event of failure, there are three courses of action available to the parties, in addition to the possibility of seeking legal advice and assistance from the Secretariat under Article 28 of the Protocol.  

a) Conciliation and mediation 

According to Article 8 of the Protocol, an external, independent person may assist the parties in finding an amicable solution. In case of failure, the parties are free to take further legal action.  

b) Procedure via the DSB 

The Parties may appeal to the DSB and request a finding that a measure is inconsistent with the Agreement. The DSB then convenes the panel for a final report. It is selected from a list of candidates maintained by the AfCFTA Secretariat, for which each State Party nominates two candidates. After the opinion has been announced, the parties can appeal to the DSB within 30 days, which is then decided by the AB. If the panel or AB concludes that a measure is incompatible with the Agreement, it shall recommend to the Member State concerned that the measure be brought into conformity with the Agreement. In addition, the panel or AB may make proposals for effective implementation. If the DSB adopts the view of the panel / AB in accordance with Article 19 or Article 22 of the Protocol, the decision becomes legally binding on the Parties. The parties to the dispute shall bear the costs of the proceedings equally in accordance with Article 26 of the Protocol. If the decision is not implemented by the Member State concerned within a reasonable period, the aggrieved party may request the DSB to take interim measures. 

c) Arbitration 

The Parties may agree to arbitration instead of conducting the procedure through the DSB by Article 6 in conjunction with Article 27 of the Protocol. The only requirement is that the parties inform the DSB thereof. The DSB shall be notified of the arbitral award. 

IV. Building blocks and institutions of the AfCFTA 

A. Regional economic communities 

The only supranational organisation that unites all 55 African countries under one roof is the AU, which replaced the former OAU in 2002. Today, all internationally recognised African states – including the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara) – belong to it. The AU is based in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. In addition to peace, security, and stability, the AU’s goals are to accelerate regional integration processes and to raise the living standards of all Africans.  

All 55 members of the AU were involved in the AfCFTA negotiations. Of these, 47 belong to at least one – and some to several – recognised regional economic communities (RECs), which, according to the preamble of the AfCFTA agreement, are to continue to exist as building blocks of the trade agreement. It was therefore also they who acted as the mouthpiece of their respective members in the AfCFTA negotiations. The AfCFTA provides for RECs to retain their legal instruments, institutions, and dispute settlement mechanisms. 

Within the AU, there are eight recognised RECs44, which overlap in some countries and are either preferential trade agreements (Free Trade Agreements, or FTAs) or customs unions.  

Table 1: Recognised RECs within the AU45 

Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) 5 member states 
Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) 21 member states 
Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD)  29 member states 
East African Community (EAC) 7 member states 
Economic Community of Central Africa (ECCAS) 11 member states 
Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) 15 member states 
Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)  8 member states 
Southern African Development Community (SADC) 16 member states 

The different interests of the regional economic communities have not always made the AfCFTA negotiations easy.  

On the one hand, it had to be considered that most economic communities have different tariffs, rules of origin, and standards. The AfCFTA links some countries and RECs, such as EAC and ECOWAS, for the first time through a free trade agreement.46 Secondly, the level of integration varies across RECs. Not all RECs have liberalised internal trade at all. AMU, for example, is virtually meaningless in terms of free trade, while SADC has already liberalised 90 % of its internal trade.47 The IGAD community of countries, on the other hand, has been planning a free trade agreement for many years. However, since most members are also members of COMESA, which already allows free trade, negotiations are at a standstill.48 

Within the framework of the AfCFTA, the RECs have various tasks. These are in particular:49 

  • Coordinating negotiating positions and supporting member states in implementing the agreement 
  • Solution-oriented mediation in the event of disagreements between member states  
  • Supporting the Member States in the harmonisation of customs duties and other border protection regimes  
  • Promote the use of the AfCFTA reporting procedure to phase out NTBs. 

Of the recognised RECs, Egypt belongs to COMESA and CEN-SAD. Through COMESA, Egypt is also part of the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA), which aims to integrate the three RECs COMESA, EAC, and SADC, and facilitate the movement of goods. In addition, Egypt is a member of numerous other economic agreements, such as the free trade agreements with EFTA, Turkey, the Mercado Común del Sur (MERCOSUR), and the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA). Thanks to its free trade agreements, Egypt has been able to expand its domestic supply of goods and services, open new markets and benefit from foreign investment. With the AfCFTA, Egypt is counting on strengthening this effect. 

B. Bodies under the AfCFTA 

To promote and monitor the implementation of the commitments of their contracting states, free trade areas need institutions. The AfCFTA provides for four institutions. 

The highest decision-making body of the AU, the Assembly of the AU, is responsible for oversight according to Article 10 of the AfCFTA. It supervises the trade agreement and sets strategic guidelines for it. Within this framework, it also monitors the implementation of the Action Plan for Boosting Intra-Africa Trade (BIAT), which aims to deepen Africa’s market integration and increase the volume of trade between African countries.50 

Furthermore, Article 11 of the AfCFTA establishes a Council of Ministers, which consists of the respective trade ministers of the signatory states. It is responsible for the actual implementation of the agreement and reports on this to the AU General Assembly. The Council of Ministers is not a permanent institution but holds regular meetings twice a year. 

In its Article 12, the Trade Agreement also provides for the Senior Trade Officials Committee, to which each State Party shall appoint a permanent secretary, principal secretary, or other designated official. It implements the decisions of the Council of Ministers, prepares programmes and action plans for the implementation of the Agreement, ensures the proper functioning and development of the AfCFTA, establishes committees or working groups, directs the Secretariat to undertake specific tasks and itself performs any other tasks that arise under the Agreement or are explicitly assigned by the Council of Ministers. 

The most important body, the AfCFTA Secretariat, is based in Accra and is a functionally autonomous institutional body within the African Union system with an independent legal personality under Article 13. The Secretariat is independent of the African Union Commission but is funded from the AU’s annual general budget. The tasks and responsibilities of the Secretariat are defined by the Council of Ministers. These are, inter alia, monitoring and support functions in relation to remedies, non-tariff barriers, dispute settlement, etc.  

Not mentioned in the framework agreement and the protocols themselves, but relevant in this context, is the African Trade Observatory (ATO) established on the occasion of the AfCFTA. The ATO provides reliable and up-to-date information on trade data, opportunities for regional value chains, market conditions, applicable regulations, registered exporters, and importers as well as authorised economic operators on its internet platform. Using this information, the ATO also enables government agencies and policy makers to monitor the AfCFTA implementation process and assess its impact on their respective economies.51 The information provided by the contracting states on their customs and import regulations is guaranteed in Article 16 of the Agreement and can also be viewed on the internet platform.  

Furthermore, the protocols of the AfCFTA agreement provide for various committees and subcommittees (technical committees) to assist in the implementation of the agreement. They are composed of designated representatives of the contracting states.  

V. AfCFTA: Milestone or Paper Tiger? 

A. A lofty goal  

Most intra-African trade has so far taken place within RECs.  

Thus, within Africa, Egypt exported mainly to other North African countries (mainly Libya, Algeria, and Morocco), while exports to other African countries, on the other hand, accounted for only 15.4 % of its total exports.52 

The AfCFTA now offers its member states the opportunity to establish new trade relations outside their respective RECs. At the end of June 2022, for example, Mr Christophe Eken, President of the Cameroon Chamber of Commerce (Ccima), and Mr Mamoudou Fadil, Honorary Consul of Côte d’Ivoire, began talks in Douala on the establishment of an Ivorian-Cameroonian Chamber of Commerce.53 

Thanks to the AfCFTA, Egypt gains 32 new trading partners, including some of the continent’s largest economies such as South Africa or Nigeria. At the same time, the AfCFTA offers Egypt a realistic opportunity to, on the one hand, give Egyptian exports more weight outside Africa and, on the other hand, to become one of Africa’s most important industrial and export centres.  

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has developed development scenarios based on the standard economic method for estimating possible policy impacts (computable general equilibrium model, CGE model) and analysed various scenarios.54 According to this, an increase in Egyptian exports to Africa of 21 % to 30 % can be assumed with the implementation of the AfCFTA. This increase would be most noticeable in the agricultural and food sectors; in the other sectors, such as textiles, leather, wood or paper, Egyptian exports could increase by more than 25 %.  

To achieve these goals, investments in physical and digital infrastructure are particularly necessary. In the future, investments from the logistics sector are therefore likely to be particularly in demand. 

B. An action plan with many question marks 

New markets, economic growth, attractiveness for foreign investment, cost reduction and efficiency – does this sound too good to be true?  

The AfCFTA’s ambition and bar are high: it is widely reported that the AfCFTA will increase the African economy to US$ 29 billion by about 205055 and thus lift 30 million Africans out of extreme poverty.56 In particular, the projected 52.3 % increase in intra-African trade is widely mentioned57 and can also be found on the official AfCFTA website.58 However, the latter figure comes from a report presented by two UNECA experts at the 7th African Economic Conference in 2012.59 In this report, they explicitly point out that this forecast – valid for the year 2022 – presupposes a fully liberalised and comprehensive trade zone by 2017, a complete harmonisation of external tariffs by 2019 and a number of other measures.  

Compliance with the original timetable was missed. Whether the preconditions mentioned in the UNECA report can still be achieved at all in the medium or long term is an open question. 

1. Limping implementation  

Despite the intensive efforts of African leaders, the AfCFTA is currently still stuck somewhere between the “negotiation phase” and the “implementation phase”.60 

It should first be noted that as of August 2022, not all states have ratified the agreement. Moreover, the most important instrument – the elimination of 90 % of tariffs – has been stretched to at least 5 years and thus has not yet been implemented in all signatory states. Moreover, the negotiations on rules of origin, tariff concessions and commitments for the services sectors have not even been concluded yet. It is therefore not surprising that despite the formal entry into force of the AfCFTA, hardly any preferential trade has taken place under it so far.61 

2. Densification of the regulatory jungle 

The term “Pan-African trade agreement” creates the association that a single African liberalisation instrument has been created. In fact, however, the already existing RECs are to continue to exist as building blocks parallel to the AfCFTA. However, since the regulations and the bureaucratic burden differ greatly between the trade agreements, several agreements in force at the same time represent a major challenge for exporters. Unification would have brought great potential. Instead, the opportunity to reduce the trade policy chaos on the African continent was missed.62 

3. Lack of accountability  

The AfCFTA does not provide for the establishment of a new international organisation and thus no supra-national body expressly empowered to litigate on behalf of the AfCFTA and to ensure that the contracting states comply with their obligations. Thus, no legal entity is directly responsible for the implementation of the new trade rules. The AU supports and coordinates the implementation of the AfCFTA, but ultimately national laws and regulations must be adopted to ensure the effectiveness of the trade rules.63 If this does not happen, the only recourse is through the DSB. 

4. Restrictive standing 

According to the AfCFTA’s Dispute Settlement Protocol, the DSB, the Secretariat or an arbitral tribunal can only intervene in disputes between the contracting states. However, no legal instrument is provided for legal action by a private party such as an exporter, importer, or service provider against a member state. At best, private parties are protected via the member state that successfully sues them. 

Direct protection is foreseeable at best via the protocol on investment policy (still to be negotiated in Phase II). Under discussion is the possibility for private parties to report unfair trade practices, such as dumping of goods or subsidised imports, to national investigative authorities and to apply for countervailing and safeguard measures.64 

5. Lengthy enforcement of DSB decisions 

According to Article 25 of the Protocol on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes, it is the duty of States Parties to fully implement the recommendations and decisions of the DSB. However, beyond that, the enforcement procedure is lengthy and complicated, making DSB decisions a toothless tiger. 

Thus, the losing member state first has the possibility to request several time deferrals to implement the decision. Only in case of non-implementation of the decision within a reasonable period, the prevailing Member State may request the DSB to take interim measures and award compensation, in accordance with Article 25 of the Protocol. However, if the losing member state continues to refuse to implement the decision, renewed talks on an amicable settlement must be held. Only after these talks have failed and a period of 20 days has expired can the winning member state finally apply for enforcement of the DSB decision. The losing member state can then appeal against this. The matter must then be referred to arbitration.  

6. Survival of the fittest 

In addition to the above-mentioned points, there is also criticism of an economic nature, such as that small and medium-sized enterprises will no longer be able to withstand the competitive pressure in the long term. In particular, there are fears that the dismantling of tariffs – although hailed as a central achievement of the AfCFTA – could do more harm than good for most African countries. The elimination of tariffs can lead to negative welfare effects in economically weak countries because fiscal tariffs on imported goods are a relatively easy way to obtain foreign currency. However, due to the pandemic and the Ukraine conflict, most African countries are already suffering from a lack of foreign exchange. 

VI. Outlook 

The AfCFTA has the potential to facilitate Egypt’s and Africa’s integration into the global economy and creates the real possibility of a realignment of international integration and cooperation patterns.  

A trade agreement alone is no guarantee of economic success. For the agreement to achieve the predicted breakthrough, the member states must have the political will to consistently implement the new regulations and create the necessary capacities for this. In particular, the short-term elimination of NTBs and the creation of a sustainable physical and digital infrastructure are likely to be crucial. Egypt is already a pioneer in this regard: it has already begun implementation, and in 2021 the Ministry of Trade and Industry issued Decree No. 39/2021 establishing a committee to monitor and control the national implementation of the AfCFTA.  

There is no doubt that the AfCFTA will produce losers and winners. Egypt is likely to be one of the latter. 

[2] Data Report of the German Foundation for World Population (Datenreport der Deutschen Stiftung Weltbevölkerung, DSW),
[4] GIZ, AHK und GTI, Neue Märkte – neue Chancen, ein Wegweiser für deutsche Unternehmer, Ägypten, 2016, p. 3
[6] as well as Algeria, Angola, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa
[7] e.g., through the free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA)
[8] see also OECD et al. (2021), Production Transformation Policy Review of Egypt: Embracing Change, Achieving Prosperity, OECD, Development Pathways, OECD Publishing, Paris, p. 141
[9] OECD et al. (2021), Production Transformation Policy Review of Egypt: Embracing Change, Achieving Prosperity, OECD, Development Pathways, OECD Publishing, Paris, p. 142
[10] see also
[11] see also OECD et al. (2021), Production Transformation Policy Review of Egypt: Embracing Change, Achieving Prosperity, OECD, Development Pathways, OECD Publishing, Paris, p. 21.
[12] OECD et al. (2021), Production Transformation Policy Review of Egypt: Embracing Change, Achieving Prosperity, OECD, Development Pathways, OECD Publishing, Paris, p. 36
[13] see also OECD et al. (2021), Production Transformation Policy Review of Egypt: Embracing Change, Achieving Prosperity, OECD, Development Pathways, OECD Publishing, Paris, p. 66.
[15] GIZ, AfCFTA Infographics Overview, p. 5
[16] GIZ, AfCFTA Infographics Overview, p. 8
[17] GIZ, AfCFTA Infographics Overview, p. 2
[18] ifo Schnelldienst 10 / 2021, Jonas Böschemeier und Feodora A. Teti, Die panafrikanische Freihandelszone AfCFTA – Utopie oder reale Chance?, p. 50
[20] Monrovia Declaration, 33rd Ordinary Ministerial Conference, 6 – 20 July 1979
[21] Art. 2ff of the Abuja Convention of 1991
[22] Agenda 2063, p. 2
[24] confirmatory act by the head of state after approval by the legislative body
[25] Egypt was the chairing state of the AU from February 2019 to February 2020.
[26] see also
[27] Status: August 2022
[30] Some sources speak of Phase I, II and III. The official website of the AU and the AfCFTA only mentions Phase I and II, which is why this article only refers to Phase I and II.
[31] Originating products are those which are wholly obtained in a country, or which have undergone sufficient working or processing in that country.
[32] see also; see also
[34] Minutes of the 13th Extraordinary AU General Assembly on AfCFTA of 05.12.2020
[36] ifo Schnelldienst 10 / 2021, Jonas Böschemeier und Feodora A. Teti, Die panafrikanische Freihandelszone AfCFTA – Utopie oder reale Chance?, p. 53
[37] Pursuant to Article 30 of the Agreement, the AfCFTA is drawn up in four originals in Arabic, English, French, and Portuguese, all of which are equally authentic.
[38]; Egypt signed the agreement on 28 May 2018 and ratified it on 24 February 2019.
[39] UNECA, KAS Office Ethiopia/AU, Policy Brief, Private sector as the backbone of the AfCFTA implementation, p. 2
[40] UNECA, KAS Office Ethiopia/AU, Policy Brief, Private sector as the backbone of the AfCFTA implementation, p. 2
[41] see also Tralac Trade Law Centre, African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Frequently Asked Questions, April 2022, p. 9; see also
[42] UNECA, KAS Office Ethiopia/AU, Policy Brief, Private sector as the backbone of the AfCFTA implementation, p. 3
[44] See table 1
[48] ifo Schnelldienst 10 / 2021, Jonas Böschemeier und Feodora A. Teti, Die panafrikanische Freihandelszone AfCFTA – Utopie oder reale Chance?, p. 53
[49] OECD et al. (2021), Production Transformation Policy Review of Egypt: Embracing Change, Achieving Prosperity, OECD, Development Pathways, OECD Publishing, Paris, p. 137
[52] see also OECD et al. (2021), Production Transformation Policy Review of Egypt: Embracing Change, Achieving Prosperity, OECD, Development Pathways, OECD Publishing, Paris, p. 141.
[53]; see also
[54] see also OECD et al. (2021), Production Transformation Policy Review of Egypt: Embracing Change, Achieving Prosperity, OECD, Development Pathways, OECD Publishing, Paris, p. 143.
[57] about;
[59] Selected paper for Presentation at the 7th African Economic Conference Kigali, Rwanda, 30 October – 2 November 2012, p. 17
[61] see also
[62] ifo Schnelldienst 10 / 2021, Jonas Böschemeier and Feodora A. Teti, The Pan-African Free Trade Area AfCFTA – Utopia or Real Opportunity?, p. 53
[64] Tralac Trade Law Centre, African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Frequently Asked Questions, April 2022, p. 13

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