The African Continental Free Trade Area in a Stagnating Multilateral Trading System: On the Likely (Ir)Relevance of the Enabling Clause
Italian Yearbook of International Law - Vol XXIX (2019), pp. 53-75
Posted: 31 Dec 2020
Date Written: 2019
This paper analyses the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) whose Agreement entered into force on 30 May 2019, and particularly its relationship with the World Trade Organization. It considers whether the practice of African Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) to rely on the Enabling Clause since 1979 should be replicated in the context of a 21st century trade deal. Considering the ambition of the AfCFTA for a deep integration, aiming at liberalising trade in goods, services, investment, intellectual property, competition, etc., the Enabling Clause may thus appear as a second-best option. This view is also supported by claims that reliance on variable geometry has been counterproductive in regulating African RTAs. While notification of the AfCFTA as a full fledged RTA may also sound, at least theoretically, too ambitious for a scheme composed of developing countries, this paper contemplates the GATT Article XXIV’s “interim agreement” alternative, which, nevertheless, comes with some strict rules regarding completion timeframe. Whereas adherence to such a schedule is generally not a requirement for RTAs notified as full agreements and may in such a scenario sound like an “undue” burden on African countries, the paper argues that it could alleviate the predicaments of lack of political will that has marred regional economic integration projects on the continent.
Keywords: African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA, Regional Trade Agreements, Trade and Development, Enabling Clause, WTO
JEL Classification: K33, O55, O19, F02, P48, F15, F55, O24, N40, P45
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation