AfCFTA sets up court to inspire confidence in trade deal

African Continental Free Trade Area
Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area, Wamkele Mene

Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat, Wamkele Mene, has said that businesses should feel confident and safe about leveraging opportunities created by the continental trade deal, as a Dispute Settlement Body has been established to address possible infractions.

Speaking at the Africa trade roundtable discussion themed ‘Advancing a Continental Market Through the AfCFTA’, organised by the University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA) Law School, the Secretary General said the Dispute Settlement Body will function as a full court that will have all the necessary structures and mechanisms in place to make sure the trade deal runs smoothly and efficiently.

“The most important aspect of the protocols is resolution of disputes which arise under the AfCFTA. We know that there will be disputes, but the key thing is how to resolve those disputes. Right up until this agreement entered into force, when a trader wanted to access their legal rights the only forum they had in Africa was the country where the issue took place. Otherwise, you had to go through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to have that matter adjudicated and resolved.

“We have now, for the first time, established a forum for resolution of trade investment, intellectual property rights through this protocol of dispute settlement. It will function like any other court of law. There is a dispute settlement body where a complainant will bring their dispute, and the body will consider the merits of the dispute and establish a panel that we call the court of first incidence.

“If you don’t like the ruling of the panel, you of course have the right to take it for review, which is the court of final incidence, and a panel body will be established to consider the merits of the review. And so it is a very elaborate and comprehensive dispute settlement mechanism that is really at the heart of legal certainty and predictability of market,” he said.

Mr. Wamkele emphasised that establishment of the Dispute Settlement Body will assure investors of predictability, certainty and clarity of trade deals.

“If we want to have a functioning market, we have to have a dispute settlement that works and investors will have confidence in, and will be accessible to all Africans across the board. What we seek to achieve is building Africa’s jurisprudence on trade law and investment law. The legal process is a very important part of implementing a free trade agreement, because that is how you achieve predictability, certainty and clarity of the obligations enshrined in the agreement,” he said.

Also speaking at the programme, Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia further stressed the need to have such a dispute mechanism in place, as it will inspire confidence and trust among member-states who are parties to the trade deal.

“For state parties to have full confidence in implementation of the AfCFTA, a robust dispute settlement mechanism from the protocol on rules and procedures for settlement of disputes must be put in place within the shortest possible time. We need a rules-based avenue for the resolution of disputes.

“With implementation of the AfCFTA, there are likely to be issues relating, for example, to the legal obligations of member-states, the relationship between domestic law and the AfCFTA as a binding legal regime, cross-border disputes, and other nuanced and complex issues which will require solutions based on numerous academic enquiries and research,” he said.

Dr. Bawumia further added that the opportunities the trade deal has for the continent are enormous; hence, member-states and the secretariat must work together to address all challenges and ensure that the agreement does not gather dust on the shelves but be fully implemented.

“The AfCFTA is a potential game-changer for Africa, and its successful implementation will significantly enhance the prospects for achieving African regional integration. Africa has a historic opportunity to transform itself through the AfCFTA and failure certainly cannot be an option…Africans don’t want to see this as a paper-tiger once again. We want to see implementation; we want to see that this agreement brings real change to the continent,” he said.

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