In June 2015, at the twenty-fifth Summit of the African Union, held in South Africa, African Heads of Government agreed to the creation of a continental free trade area (CFTA) by 2017 through negotiations on the liberalization of trade in goods and services. This initiative presents major opportunities and challenges to boost intra-African trade. While strengthening the multilateral trading system remains vital, a parallel negotiation process to expeditiously launch the CFTA and monitor the implementation of the related agreement is also important. Also, in order to multiply the benefits of the CFTA and promote developmental regionalism in Africa, a comprehensive vision of trade and development needs to be in place. Expanded markets for African goods and services, unobstructed factor movements and the reallocation of resources should promote economic diversification, structural transformation, technological development and the enhancement of human capital.
The CFTA must be ambitious in dismantling barriers and reducing costs to intra-African trade and in improving productivity and competitiveness.1 Intraregional trade liberalization needs to be contextualized in a broader developmental framework that will provide benefits in terms of realizing Agenda 2063 of the African Union and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations. Development-oriented regionalism can contribute to spearheading Africa’s achievement of development goals, the building of resilience to external financial and economic crises and the fostering of inclusive growth. It can have spillover benefits in terms of helping foster peace, security and political stability on the continent. UNCTAD, working in partnership with the African Union Commission, African States and other development partners, is committed to supporting the attainment of these objectives, embodied under the CFTA.