CALL FOR PAPERS: Harnessing Intra-COMESA Trade Through the Interface with African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA)

The Lagos Plan of Action and the Abuja Treaty embraced a bottom-up process with the RECs as the stepping stones for African continental integration and provided for the establishment of the African Economic Community in six stages, ranging from strengthening of existing RECs and establishment of new RECs in regions where they do not exist, to an African Common Market, all in a period not exceeding thirty-four years.

While the Abuja Treaty continues to set the overall framework and ambition for African integration, the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government decreed, in 2012, the decision to boost intra-African trade and fast-track the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA). Emphasis has therefore been put on the creation of the continental free trade area, by passing the common market, and economic and monetary community.

The operational phase of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was launched at the 12th Extraordinary Summit of the African Union (AU) in Niamey, Niger on July 7, 2019, with all African countries except Eritrea having signed and 27 having ratified the Agreement. This notwithstanding, it is envisaged that trade within RECs will continue according to the trading regimes that are already in place (customs unions or free trade areas). Since RECs are building blocs for the AfCFTA, two critical principles continue to be observed in the AfCFTA negotiations namely; that best practices in the RECs are recognized and that the REC acquis shall be preserved. The implication is that new tariff liberalization under AfCFTA will only occur among Member States that do not have an existing Agreement with one another.

Article 19 of the AfCFTA Agreement provides for ‘State Parties that are members of other regional economic communities, regional trading arrangements and custom unions, which have attained among themselves higher levels of regional integration than under the AfCFTA agreement, to maintain such higher levels among themselves.’ A similar formulation is used in the goods protocol with respect to the elimination of customs duties and trade barriers – suggesting that REC members shall maintain higher levels of liberalization and where possible improve upon them among themselves.

African countries, trade relatively less with each other. While a new trade Agreement does not guarantee trade, it does change the incentives to make trade with other partners to that Agreement more accessible and attractive. The AfCFTA has the potential to put in place mechanisms to address many of the non-tariff challenges frustrating intra-African trade. It could do so in a manner which will provide more certainty and predictability and improve the trade facilitation environment. The potential dynamic benefits of the AfCFTA are particularly important. Larger integrated markets may well be more attractive to investors and along with new investment could come new technologies and learning that could boost productive capacity.

In view of the fact that intra-Africa trade is highly concentrated within the RECs, it is envisaged that a fully operational AfCFTA will boost not only inter –REC trade, but more importantly, intra-REC trade. As the AfCFTA advances and becomes more consolidated, there should be more policy convergence, and a simplification of rules across the different trading regimes.

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) was established in 1994 as a successor to the Preferential Trade Area for Eastern and Southern Africa (PTA) set up in 1981 within the framework of the Organization of the African Unity’s (OAU) Lagos Plan of Action and the First Act of Lagos. COMESA is the largest regional economic community in Africa, offering the business community the best bet for overcoming the diminutive size of national economies.

The COMESA regional block currently comprises of 21 Member States (Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe).

The growth in intra-COMESA trade remains low compared to the region’s trade with the rest of the world both in terms of exports and imports.  The intra-COMESA exports only account for 6.4 percent of region’s total exports compared to about 20 percent for East African Community (EAC) and 62 percent for the EU (UNCTADSTAT, 2015).

This call seeks papers that explore ways in which COMESA trade can be harnessed through the interface with the AfCFTA given that COMESA is one of the 8 RECs recognized by the African Union. Relevant case studies on any of the sub-thematic areas will be considered for presentation at the seventh research forum.

Objective of the call for papers

The objective of this call is to seek empirical and/or policy-oriented research papers to address issues pertinent to the agenda of regional integration in the context of harnessing intra-COMESA trade through the interface with AfCFTA.

Research Theme


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