Unveiling the Cornerstone of Intra-African Trade: The AfCFTA Rules of Origin


The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), an ambitious initiative aimed at creating the world’s largest free trade area by member states, is poised to transform trade across the African continent. With 55 countries coming together, encompassing a population of 1.3 billion people, the AfCFTA is setting the stage for a seismic shift in how trade is conducted, promising an era of increased market integration for goods and services, alongside the free movement of people and capital.

At the heart of this transformative trade agreement are the Rules of Origin (RoO), crucial legal provisions that determine the national origin of a product. These rules are pivotal for the preferential trade area, delineating the criteria under which products can enjoy the benefits of AfCFTA’s preferential market access. Unlike non-preferential RoO, which serve various national purposes, preferential RoO are tailored to foster intra-African trade by specifying the amount of local processing required for products to qualify for tariff reductions or exemptions.

Sector-Specific Approach to Origin Determination

The AfCFTA adopts a nuanced approach by negotiating RoO on a sector-by-sector basis, allowing for criteria that reflect the unique characteristics and needs of different industries. This method ensures that the rules are not only relevant but also encourage local processing and value addition. However, it also means that the negotiation process is intricate and time-consuming, necessitating a delicate balance between specificity and practicality.

Cumulation: A Key Feature

A notable aspect of the AfCFTA RoO is the principle of cumulation, which facilitates shared value addition across member states. This provision enables inputs from one member state to be considered ‘local’ when used in the production of goods in another member state, thereby fostering regional supply chains and collaborative industrial development.

Implications for Chambers of Commerce

For chambers of commerce, the implementation of the AfCFTA RoO presents both challenges and opportunities. As trade under the AfCFTA began on 1 January 2021, businesses within member states that previously traded on standard Most Favored Nation (MFN) terms now have the potential to engage in preferential trade, provided they adhere to the agreed RoO and tariffs.

Chambers of commerce must navigate these changes, assisting their members in understanding and complying with the new rules. This involves ensuring that businesses are aware of the specific RoO for their sector, leveraging the cumulation provisions to enhance competitiveness, and engaging with the ongoing negotiation process to represent the interests of their members effectively.

Outstanding Issues and Future Directions

While trade has officially commenced under the AfCFTA, the negotiation of RoO and final tariff schedules remains a work in progress, with some sectors still awaiting agreement on specific rules. Chambers of commerce play a critical role in this context, advocating for clarity and practicality in RoO definitions, including provisions for value tolerance and the treatment of goods produced in special economic zones.

As the AfCFTA continues to evolve, chambers of commerce are essential partners in the journey towards a more integrated and prosperous Africa. By fostering understanding and compliance among businesses, advocating for supportive policies, and facilitating adaptation to the new trade landscape, chambers can help ensure that the AfCFTA realizes its full potential to benefit all member states.