Monday, August 26, 2019

Map: What is the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)?

African Continental Free Trade Area countries: Map of AfCFTA members and signatories as of August 2019. Who has signed the AfCFTA, who has ratified the AfCFTA, and who has not signed. Colorblind accessible.
Map by Evan Centanni, from blank map by Eric Gaba. License: CC BY-SA

New Trade Bloc: What is the AfCFTA Agreement?

Despite being neighbors, most countries in Africa trade more with other continents than with each other - a peculiar leftover of colonialism that the African Union (AU) has long been looking to change. Last year, the organization's member countries finally came together and agreed on the creation of one of the world's most expansive "free trade areas". The new zone, called the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), officially came into being on May 30, 2019, after a minimum threshold of 22 countries confirmed that they had copied its 2018 founding treaty into their national laws (a process called "ratification").

For Advanced Users: Full text of the AfCFTA's founding treaty

The area started officially operating on July 7, though many of its key reforms haven't been actually implemented yet (more on that below). And based on a decision also made at the July 7 conference, the West African country of Ghana was chosen as the future host country for the trade area's administrative offices.

What is a Free Trade Area?

A free trade area is a group of two or more countries who have signed a treaty making it cheaper and easier to import and export things to each other. The idea is usually to increase the total amount of trade between the member countries, in hopes that it will make the economy better for all of them. This kind of treaty is called a "free trade agreement" (FTA) because it allows people and companies to import and export things more "freely" within that group of countries.

AfCFTA Members: Which Countries Are in the Trade Area?

When the AfCFTA agreement was first completed in March 2018, it was signed by 44 out of the African Union's 55 member countries. But according to the the terms of the agreement, it couldn't take effect until 30 days after at least 22 countries had officially submitted their ratification documents to the AU.

The 21st and 22nd ratifications were deposited on April 29, 2019 and the free trade area officially came into existence on May 30 with 24 full members - two more countries, Zimbabwe and Burkina Faso, had completed the ratification process during the 30-day wait. By this time, the number of countries who had signed the agreement had also risen to 52.

See Also: What is the African Union, and which countries are in it?

The AfCFTA on May 30, 2019, the day it officially came into existence (click to enlarge). Map by Evan Centanni, from blank map by Eric Gaba. License: CC BY-SA
Two of the last three remaining AU members, Benin and Nigeria, finally signed the agreement at the July 7 summit that launched the area's "operational phase". Nigeria's decision to sign was a big deal, since it's Africa's largest economy, and the country's government had previously refused to join. By this time, three more countries had also deposited their instruments of ratification, bringing the number of full members to the current total of 27.

You can look at the map above to see which countries are signatories of the AfCFTA (have signed the agreement) and which are full members (have deposited their ratification documents). Or you can check out Wikipedia's complete list of countries' AfCFTA membership status, which is sortable by date of signing, ratification, and deposit.

Who Hasn't Signed: Which Countries Aren't Part of the AfCFTA?

Many countries haven't yet become full members by ratifying the AfCFTA. But as of now, all of Africa's independent countries - which together make up the African Union (AU) - have signed the agreement to create the AfCFTA, except for Eritrea. Eritrea was reportedly left out of the original negotiations because of its unresolved war with powerful Ethiopia, but since reconciling earlier this year it has shown interest in finally signing up. The only other parts of Africa that can't participate at all in the free trade area are places that aren't part of the AU. All of those are territories belonging to non-African countries, and all are offshore islands except for the Spain-controlled cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the North African coast.

Disputed Countries and the AfCFTA 

Even the controversial Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) - which claims to be the government of disputed Western Sahara, but only controls a strip of desert in the region's east - is an AfCFTA member. In fact, the SADR was the member that triggered the area's May 30 entry into force by becoming the 22nd signatory to deposit its ratification documents. Morocco, which controls most of Western Sahara and claims all of it, has publicly criticized the SADR's membership in the free trade area, but the SADR was allowed to join anyway because it's a member of the AU and considered a country by many other African countries.

Somaliland, on the other hand, which operates mostly independently but is considered part of Somalia by the rest of the world's countries, is excluded from participation in either the AU or the AfCFTA.

Implementation: Is the AfCFTA Free Trade Area Really Operating Yet?

Although the AfCFTA began its "operational phase" on July 7, a lot of the free trade agreement hasn't been implemented quite yet. What did happen on July 7 was the launch of five key programs for managing the free trade area:
  1. The "rules of origin" - a rulebook for defining whether things were "Made in" the region or not
  2. An online forum for negotiations between member countries
  3. A system for monitoring the reduction of "non-tariff barriers" - regulations besides import taxes that still make it harder to import things
  4. A digital system for companies to make payments across borders without having to change cash into different currencies
  5. The African Trade Observatory, an organization that will collect and distribute detailed data and statistics on trade in Africa

What Are the Next Steps for the AfCFTA?

The biggest changes are yet to come for the full implementation of the AfCFTA, like getting rid of most tariffs (taxes on importing and exporting things) between the member countries. Full-scale trading under the new AfCFTA rules isn't expected to begin until July of next year, after more of the details have been worked out.

The member countries are also still negotiating "Phase Two" of the free trade agreement, which will include rules on business competition, cross-border investment, and intellectual property (copyright, trademarks, and patents). A related agreement between AU member countries, the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons, was originally signed at the same time as the AfCFTA, but is considered a separate agreement. It has not yet gone into effect, since only a few countries have ratified it so far.


Stay tuned to PolGeoNow for AfCFTA ratification updates! You can check for updated versions this map by viewing all AfCFTA articles on PolGeoNow.

Graphic of the Sudanese flag is in the public domain.