High hopes new African free trade area will boost seafood trade

Published on
July 10, 2019

The 55-nation African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) launched this month, nearly two months after an agreement creating it came into force. 

Countries in the region will benefit from free trade in seafood and fishery products and full compliance with the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

The AfCFTA Agreement, which was earlier signed in Kigali, Rwanda, on 21 March, 2018, promotes closer economic integration among subscribing countries and will, among other things, enable the region increase intra-regional trade, including in fish and fishery products through the elimination of barriers and distortions to trade such as duties, quotas, and non-tariff barriers.

“AfCFTA covers goods and services and has complementary programs for infrastructure, industrialization, agriculture modernization, small scale trade, as well as innovation, intellectual property, competition and investment,” Director of Trade and Customs at the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Secretariat Francis Mangeni said in announcing the deal.

Currently, intra-African fish trade accounts for a mere 10 percent, or USD 430 million (EUR 383.8 million) of the region’s total fish exports, which are estimated at USD 4 billion (EUR 3.6 billion), according to the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), an economic growth initiative of the African Union. However, the reported value of intra-Africa trade in fish and fishery products in Africa could be an underestimation, because much of the informal transactions are not captured in official statistics.

Nevertheless, according to NEPAD, Africa’s economic development is “hampered by a structural deficiency, which manifests itself in the dichotomy between the traditional and modern sectors.”

“The fish products destined towards exports are generally prepared in modern fish processing plants, following quality standards of the European Union market. However, products destined for the African market are poorly prepared and packed and raise concerns about quality and safety,” NEPAD.

But with the launch of AfCFTA, the stage is now set for member-states to fast-track necessary trade documents, tariff schedules, rules of origin, and a system for addressing non-tariff barriers. The hope is that those efforts will support and streamline the coordination of trade policies of the eight regional economic communities (RECs), spurring economic growth and improvement of food security in Africa.

The existing RECs in Africa include Arab Maghreb Union, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, Community of Sahel–Saharan States, East African Community, Economic Community of Central African States, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). 

Nearly all the RECs are implementing the elimination of non-tariff barriers, harmonization of their trade and sanitary regulations, improving fish market information system, restructuring of their border controls with the setting up of One Stop Border Posts to support seamless movement of goods. ECOWAS and SADC have already achieved respective monetary unions.

The AfCFTA is expected to build on the achievements of the RECs’ existing policy structures for a successful full integration of Africa’s fish and aquaculture sector, according to NEPAD.

With AfCFTA, intra-African trade in fish is likely to ramp up, especially under the free trade recommendation to all signatory countries to ensure elimination of import duties or charges on goods originating from other AfCFTA-subscribing members.

In addition, AfCFTA member-countries that have liberalized or plan to liberalize their fish and aquaculture sector would under the new deal “not impose any new import duties or charges having equivalent effect on goods originating from the territory of any other state party, except as provided for under this protocol.”

Furthermore, AfCFTA signatories have agreed on how to apply preferential tariffs to imports originating from within the trading bloc to strengthen the intra-Africa trade including that of fish and fishery products.

However, if any of the eight RECs has made progress on the elimination of customs duties and trade barriers than those provided for in the AfCFTA, the new regional trade deal calls on the countries to “maintain and where possible improve upon, those higher levels of trade liberalization among themselves.”

Photo courtesy of the African Union

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