The African Union (AU) boosted the prospects of trade integration in Africa in 2018, when it created the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The free trade area entered into force on 30 May 2019 and launched on 1 January 2021. The initiative is integral to the AU’s broader Vision 2063, which envisages an integrated continent with free movement of people, goods, capital and services and developed infrastructure. With a market size of US$3 trillion, expectations are high for the world’s largest free trade agreement in terms of the number of participating countries. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimates a 52.3 percent increase in intra-African trade and a $25.3 billion or 4 percent increase in African exports as the continent eliminates tariffs on trade between African countries and institutes integration measures. Trade in industrial goods is also expected to increase by 53 percent between 2010 and 2022. The AfCFTA will reduce tariffs on 90 percent of products and establish a liberalized market for services between AU member states. While intra-African trade grew from about $16 billion in 2000 to an estimated $40 billion in 2016, the launch of the AfCFTA to boost it further from the current minimal $220 billion in trade that Africa had with countries outside of the continent in 2016.
Govinn Centre for the Study of governance innovation
The AfCFTA is also expected to help build capacity, enhance Africa’s regional identity, its presence and actorness in international affairs, as well as its relationships with other regions like the European Union (EU). If successfully implemented, the AfCFTA will solidify the AU and Africa’s position as a partner in governing global issues in the areas of trade, peace and security, migration and control of disease that no one country or region cannot singlehandedly manage. The AfCFTA promises to improve Africa’s trade, diplomatic and socioeconomic relationships with regions like the EU. However, there are some questions that should be addressed as the initiative unfolds. For instance, how will the AfCFTA impact broad-based sustainable development in Africa in the context of resurgent regional trade agreements (RTAs) around the world? What good practices, lessons learned and case studies could be provided from other regional actors such as the EU, which could support the AU’s actorness in the international system of nation-states and further contribute to an improved and strengthened global governance landscape? Furthermore, how should Africa reposition its relational operations with the EU in the post-Brexit era with the emergence of AfCFTA?
Against this backdrop, the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria and the Institute of African Studies of Carleton University, Canada, hosted an international conference at the University of Pretoria that brought together scholars from across disciplines, policy makers and civil society actors who deliberated on African Union-European Union relations: Partnerships for actorness in effective global governance workshop at the conference. Contributions from conference participants engaged with and spoke to the following broad themes: