Last reviewed 6 January 2021

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a free trade area bringing together, within the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, 54 of the 55 African Union nations. Only Eritrea has refused to join.

Since the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO), AfCFTA is the largest such trading group to be created in terms of participating countries with a joint population of 1.3 billion people.

The 26 countries that have so ratified the agreement are: Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Namibia, Niger, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Eswatini, Togo, Uganda, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and Zimbabwe.

The agreement initially requires members to remove tariffs from 90% of goods, allowing free access to commodities, goods, and services across the continent. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) estimates that the agreement will boost intra-African trade by 52% by 2022.

Trade facilitation measures that cut red tape and simplify customs procedures are expected to drive $292 billion of the $450 billion in potential income gains.

After the Covid pandemic delayed the planned launch of AfCFTA last year, the $3.4 trillion economic bloc began officially trading on 1 January 2021.

The World Bank said AfCFTA presents a major opportunity for African countries to bring 30 million people out of extreme poverty and to raise the incomes of 68 million others who live on less than $5.50 per day.

The Bank has produced “The African Continental Free Trade Area: Economic and distributional effects” (available at https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/34139/9781464815591.pdf), a detailed 163-page report which argues that the agreement will significantly expand African trade, increase employment opportunities and wages for unskilled workers and help close the wage gap between men and women.