While the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into the implementation of the promising African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), the need for such regional unity and economic integration has never been more important. Indeed, an Africa with more open boundaries will enhance the economic prospects of its people and facilitate access to goods and services to make its citizens healthier and more prosperous. While some studies have found that the AfCFTA can boost combined consumer and business spending in the region to over $6.7 trillion by 2030, perhaps more importantly, the AfCFTA could increase real income gains by 7 percent, boost African exports by $560 billion, and lift 30 million Africans from extreme poverty as soon as 2035.
Even before the pandemic, Africa felt the urgency of greater integration as it pursued and, in some countries, looked to maintain, impressive economic growth. Thus, despite COVID-19-induced delays, African leaders moved forward with the ambitious project, and on January 1, 2021, trade under the AfCFTA officially commenced. The start of trade, though, was only one of many steps toward achieving greater economic integration: Even now not all parties have ratified the agreement; wariness around potential pain points for many countries persists; negotiations around the more complex and emerging aspects of trade remain ongoing; and non-agreement-related obstacles stand in the way of its full realization and the promise of the new trading area.
Given the promise of the AfCFTA and the lingering obstacles, on November 29, the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative will host a discussion on the state of play and the future of the AfCFTA. What challenges to ratification and implementation persist? What are areas or strategies policymakers—regionally and nationally—should prioritize to both maintain momentum toward integration and realize its economic promise?