African Union (AU) Ministers of Trade held their twelfth meeting, undertaken virtually, on Tuesday. This was the second such meeting to be chaired by South African Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel, and was focused on concluding essential elements that remain to be agreed in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) talks. The aim is to allow preferential intra-African trade to start on January 1 next year.
No less than 38 AU members States were represented in the meeting, which took place less than a month after the eleventh such meeting. That previous meeting, on September 30, which was also chaired by Patel, saw the adoption of a prioritised work programme and a roadmap for the remaining negotiations.
A key aspect that still needs finalisation is Rules of Origin. Once these are finalised, it will then be possible to also finalise agreements on intra-African tariffs. South Africa’s position is that AfCFTA Rules of Origin must enable and strengthen ‘Made in Africa, Grown in Africa, Designed in Africa’ outcomes.
“It is important that we seek to ensure that agreed Rules of Origin promote and support local production and value addition in Africa,” affirmed Patel. “Our rules, therefore, should not be designed to benefit third parties.”
“Rules of Origin should incentivise the expansion of Africa’s manufacturing capacity, including the development of supply chains and maximum value addition within the continent,” stressed South African Trade, Industry and Competition Deputy Minister Nomalungelo Gina. “These rules must serve to spur increased investment in local African productive capacity and job creation.”
Patel reported that the AfCFTA talks were marked by a desire among the participants to develop a consensus. Further meetings will be held next month. These will be focused on issues such as trade in services, agreement on customs documentation, and agreement on tariffs (based on as many approved Rules of Origin as possible).