How Africa’s Free Trade Agreement Would Reduce COVID-19’s Impact


Today is the day that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was due to come into existence. Once it is fully implemented, the AfCFTA agreement will be the biggest trade deal in the world, in terms of the number of participating countries, since the establishment of the World Trade Organization in 1994.

African economies have traditionally been fragmented and lacking the scale to compete globally, which has led to the pursuit of market integration, particularly toward a single market on the African continent.

A Vehicle for Economic Transformation

The AfCFTA agreement is made up of 54 African countries merging into a single market of 1.3 billion people. This resource, with the merit of enhancing sustainable markets, could create an economic bloc with a combined GDP of $3.4 trillion. Once in place, intra-African trade is expected to grow by 33%, and Africa’s total trade deficit is expected to be cut in half. In addition, the AfCFTA could generate combined consumer and business spending of $6.7 trillion by 2030, according to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

AfCFTA is not simply a free trade agreement; it is a vehicle for Africa’s economic transformation. Through its various protocols, it would facilitate the movement of persons and labor, competition, investment and intellectual property.

The agreement was expected to come into force on July 1, 2020, but has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which abruptly stalled all ongoing negotiations. The secretary-general of the AfCFTA, Wamkele Mene, stated in late April that it was a “responsible thing to do” to avoid distracting leaders during the pandemic, but that he was confident the deal would ultimately be done. An African Union summit to finalize tariff concessions in May has been postponed to December 2020, further delaying the AfCFTA’s start date.

The Impact of COVID-19

The novel coronavirus is straining Africa’s health systems, education, aviation, culture, trade, and general livelihoods as well as the continent’s public and private sectors amid lockdowns, stifling sources of income.

The International Monetary Fund has revised its GDP growth forecast for the continent from 5.1% before the pandemic to -1.6%. Similarly, the World Bank has forecasted a similar decline from 2.4% in 2019 to between -2.1 and -5.1% in 2020. On one hand, mortality from the pandemic has been very low compared to other nations, but the economic impact will be enormous. These reports signal the first recession in the region over the past 25 years.

Countries must amend their AfCFTA implementation plans to include smart and innovative ways that embrace the new normal.

However, there is ample opportunity to speed up economic recovery. An increase in intra-African trade can ease the burden created by the pandemic. This becomes increasingly important as restricted global trade in vital goods such as pharmaceuticals and food products becomes essential with the fight against COVID-19.

Retool the AfCFTA for COVID-19

Africa should use the AfCFTA innovatively by focusing on the critical issues needed to fight the pandemic. Due to global shortages, many factories in Africa have shifted production and have retooled to produce basic protective equipment. In Ghana, one of the largest liquor manufacturing companies switched production to making hand sanitizer, while in Kenya, a factory retooled to make 30,000 surgical masks a day, in a country that scarcely produced any before the pandemic. Similarly, in Ethiopia, the Hawassa Industrial Park began the production of face masks to ease the growing demand due to the pandemic.

Factories in Morocco, Rwanda, South Africa and many others on the continent have also been incentivized by their governments to produce protective equipment to prevent the virus. African countries have clearly stepped up to the plate.

Africa must go forward with trade because this may be the “new normal,” but its countries may do so in innovative ways and with the support of technology. Africa has never been shy when it comes to innovating its way out of challenges; the use of mobile money and emergence of fintech are prime examples. This is also the way African countries are handling the pandemic. In Ghana, technology was leveraged to have drones deliver test samples faster to research centers. An innovative technique known as “pool testing” was also used; this cost-effective technique allowed for multiple tests and instant follow-ups on detected positive results.

Similarly, Rwandan police used drones to enforce lockdown restrictions. Innovators in Senegal produced a test kit for COVID-19 that costs $1 per patient. Such innovations should inspire African countries to turn around the bane of the pandemic and proceed with the AfCFTA.

Grasp the Opportunity Offered

There is a need for transformational change centered on innovation and technology to enforce bold decisions that could aid Africans and redefine market integration over time. The time for Africa to adopt swift measures against all odds is now. Paradigm-shifting of mindsets to grasp the opportunities that the new normal presents must be at the forefront of AfCFTA’s implementation.

Moreover, border closures have returned, reminding Africans of their threat to economic growth. Allowing AfCFTA to launch, even in the face of the pandemic, would send clear signals to skeptics that Africa may be gradually moving away from the institutional failures that often chokes its trade agreements and protocols.

As an immediate step, countries must amend their AfCFTA implementation plans to include smart and innovative ways that embrace the new normal. It will take a lot of effort, but leaders should forge ahead with the AfCFTA, focusing on technologically savvy ways to maximize benefits that may accrue. This will send a strong signal to the rest of the world that African leaders have moved past just signing agreements and protocols they do not intend to uphold.


This article was published by Brink News.

George Boateng is an engagement manager at the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET). He holds an MSc in rural development from the China Agricultural University in Beijing.

Beatrice Oforiwaa Dankyi is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Ghana. Beatrice holds a master of philosophy degree in English from the University of Ghana.


  1. Avatar Eric Owusu says:

    Well taught through and timely . Thanks

  2. Avatar Salisu Siddiq says:

    Good for our continent

  3. Avatar Leonard says:

    This piece is enlightening.
    On hearing about AFCFTA, I got excited since what our forefathers wanted for us is coming action!! .
    True African leaders should forge on.
    We need a united Africa.
    Change is coming.

  4. Avatar Geoff Gibbons says:

    Does this mean bi-lateral trade deals with individual African countries will now need to be negotiated with Africa as one entity?

  5. Avatar Godswill Egbochuo says:

    Very Informative! Gradually Africa will surely attain her place in the community of Nations!

  6. Avatar Mthobisi Mkhize says:

    This is a true reflection of what a United Africa is all about, if we can all work together in building an African Oriented socio Economy and show the world that Africa is possible…! Thank for making Free trade in Africa such a great success.. together we will triumph…! One Africa..! One World..! towards a great deal of a ground breaking African Currency

  7. Avatar Harry Mashele says:

    A good article. In the absence of any other initiative to get the African continent out of the pending economic crisis , the AfCFTA offers the one opportunity for economic inclusion and de risking of the African trade. However, policies, protocols and regulatory changes to enable this integrated trade is sure to be daunting especially when more countries on the continent get donor support mainly from countries they buy and import from. Brexit pointed out to us that trade blocks have their own challenges when some countries feel they are not benefitting from the arrangements. Having said that, this is a worthy course and have to be supported in every way.

  8. Avatar Calvin Mjoli says:

    Why it took so long for this unity is beyond my comprehension, but I must say I am happy it finally happened. A lot still needs to be outlined but nonetheless it will be a start to a great Africa, hopefully soon Independent. I hope the leadership of our nations do right by their people.
    God Bless Africa

  9. Avatar JOHN WOOTTON says:

    A very intersting article and lets trust these plans materialise following the footsteps of Bismark uniting Germany.
    I would specifically like to know
    1 ] The items which are EXCLUDED from the AfCFTA as the press release indicated 90% of all items. What are the 10% of products / commodities that are not covered.
    2 ] The introduction and implentation of a sucessful AfCFTA is going to present new challenges to the logistics and transportation sector. Is anyone going to monitor such potential bottlenecks so that these can hopefully be overcome.
    I look forward to any comments as I trust this AfCFTA is going to be of great benifit not only for South Africa but Africa as a whole

  10. Avatar Dave Burger says:

    How are you able to establish what products are free from SA to Egypt >

  11. Avatar Samson Ogbeni says:

    This is a monumental time period for the continent of Africa and ultimately our people across the globe, we are also confronted with an opportunity to create a pivotal point for our rightful positioning in the Global areana. As a young black man based in the UK, this monumental time period is unheard of in our communities. The Afcta needs the involvement of the diaspora to utilize maximum optimisation, it is time for our people to think in unison to understand the forces against us

  12. Avatar VIJAY HINI says:

    Ghana is ready to welcome you and your investment. For further enquiries on Business registrations and acquisition of business permits, please call or whatsapp me, Heniis B. Consult. (02064106120)

    Ghanaians in the diaspora who would want assistance to get their business documentation should also get intouch with me , i will be glad to assisting you too.


  13. Avatar Musa Bangura says:

    Africans have to come together and be one, we have to work hard and sport each other, we have food but we are hungry, we have resource but we are poor, we are all the same, we are neighbor but we do not know each other, but now we started to be smart because now our eyes started open so that we can see one and other, listen and hear one and other. And know we can be able to see each other without a big mountain between us. Hello my Africans let us love each other and make Africa great
    my regards
    Musa Bangura

  14. Avatar Unyimeabasi Ben says:

    The best time to reinvest the wheels for Africa’s transformational development is now. This would only happen through transformational leadership across Africa.

    Let’s make this work.

Leave a Reply to Dave Burger Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *