IntroductionThe vision of “pan-Africanism” and “collective self-reliance” has long been an integral component of attempts by African leaders and policymakers to find Africa-driven solutions to African problems. However, due to weak political, economic and governance structures, these attempts have largely failed to facilitate a structural transformation of the continent and today, the African nations continue to be fragmented economies working in isolation. Therefore, in order to achieve an African resurgence, virtually all the African countries have embraced the notion of “regionalism” and “regional integration” as part of their broader aspirations towards continental integration.[i] Over the years, various pan-African organisations have been working towards deepening economic, social and political integration in Africa.[ii] One such attempt was made at the 18th ordinary session of the African Union (AU), held in Addis Ababa in January 2012, with a decision to launch a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) by 2017. This was followed by eight rounds of negotiations between 2015 and 2017. A major breakthrough was achieved on 21 March 2018 when leaders from 44 African countries met in Kigali, Rwanda, and signed a framework agreement to establish what is being called one of the world’s largest trade blocs.[iii] The agreement declared that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) would “come into effect 30 days after ratification by the parliaments of at least 22 countries. Each country has 120 days after signing the framework to ratify the agreement”.[iv] The first section of this paper discusses the objectives of the CFTA agreement and its expected benefits for the African countries. The second section describes the history of African regional integration efforts and the establishment of Regional Economic Communities (RECs) over the past decades. The third section highlights the status of intra-African trade within the eight officially recognised RECs by the African Union using the 2016 African Regional Integration Index report as reference. The fourth section charts out the earlier African initiatives aimed at enhancing regional integration, such as the New Partnership for African Development 2002, Minimum Integration Programme 2009, Boosting Intra-African Trade 2012, and Tripartite Free Trade Area 2015. The fifth section explains the opportunities for and challenges facing the AfCFTA agreement. The sixth section examines current trends in India-Africa trade and the potential impact of the AfCFTA agreement.
Aims and objectives of AfCFTA
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