Trade experts, business executives, and advocates of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) from across the continent have expressed concerns about the slow progress on the ratification of the protocol on the movement of people.The agreement has, thus far, been signed by fifty-four of the fifty-five African Union (AU) member states.
Forty-four countries have deposited their instrument of ratification, but only four have ratified the protocol on the movement of people.
Intra-African trade, currently less than 15 percent of the continent’s total trade, is largely stifled by stringent entry rules making it strenuous for citizens to move from one country to another.
In a document released at the end of a three-day Africa Prosperity Dialogue held in Ghana from 26 to 28 January on the theme “AfCFTA: From Ambition to Action – Delivering Prosperity Through Continental Trade,” African countries are called upon to “accelerate the ratification of the protocol.”
The protocol – initially contained in the 1991 Abuja Treaty – aims to facilitate and increase the movement of Africans within Africa, while enhancing their rights to entry, residence, and establishment in AU member states.
With more people able to move freely, countries will easily tap into a wider labor market to bridge skills gaps while trading across borders.
The Africa Prosperity Dialogue focused on issues relating to AfCFTA ratification, market access, dispute resolution, negotiations on Phase II of the agreement, industrialization, private sector, innovation and technology, financing and resource mobilization, partnerships for impact, and free movement of persons.
The outcome document also contains a commitment to “Ratify the AU Protocol on the Free Movement of people and select a champion to ensure early entry into force.”
Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo was called upon to champion the protocol on the free movement of persons.
The president said he would “readily accept in all humility” but cautioned that he would need the approval of the AU before he can champion the cause.
President Akufo-Addo urged “all of us here to see ourselves as champions of intra-African trade,” adding “We cannot afford to fail. As African nations, we must join hands with each other and work diligently to pursue this noble cause.”
The dialogue was organized by the African Prosperity Network in partnership with the AfCFTA Secretariat, the government of Ghana, UNDP, and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
It brought together business executives and associations, policy leaders, trade experts, women, and young entrepreneurs, and senior government representatives who brainstormed and identified quick wins to move the AfCFTA initiative from ambition to action.
“Continental integration is an existential necessity, and therefore a natural destiny for Africa,” said Stephen Karingi, Director of Regional Integration and Trade, ECA.
“When our governments sign or ratify an agreement of this nature, they are making a collective promise to all of us…It is thus incumbent on all of us to support them to be true to their words, but also to hold them to account when they fall short,” said Melaka Desta, Coordinator of the African Trade Policy Centre at the ECA.
“Let Africans roam freely. Free movement of people is a must if Africa wants to enjoy the full benefits of the AfCFTA,” said Joseph Atta-Mensah, Senior Regional Adviser on Trade, ECA.
Organizers agreed to “meet annually, under the Africa Prosperity Dialogue,” and take stock of the progress of Africa’s prosperity agenda.
It was also agreed that development partners including ECA and UNDP will continue to provide coordinated support to governments and businesses to ensure the full implementation of the AfCFTA.