In a significant move to reshape the African trade and economic landscape, the African Union (AU) converged in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the 36th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union in February 2023. The pivotal outcome of this Session was the adoption of the Protocol to the Agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area on Competition Policy. The South African Competition Commission (SACC) recently described the objectives of the Protocol in light of the 25th year since the inception of the Competition Act 89 of 1998.
Genesis of the Competition Protocol
Rooted in the broader AfCFTA Agreement, this Protocol is the product of a series of negotiations that commenced in March 2021. The formation of a dedicated Committee on Competition Policy paved the way for meticulous discussions, eventually leading to the drafting of the Protocol’s terms.
What Does the Protocol Entail?
The protocol is instrumental in regulating economic activities across Africa. It primarily focuses on addressing anticompetitive behavior to ensure fair market practices. Central to its mission are:
- Establishing a cohesive and integrated African continental competition system.
- Augmenting competition within the AfCFTA to realize efficient markets, inclusive growth, and revamping the structural dynamics of African economies.
- Ensuring that the benefits of AfCFTA’s trade liberalization are not overshadowed by anti-competitive practices.
- Bolstering the capacity of State parties to challenge and mitigate anticompetitive business actions.
- Creating a unified platform for collaboration on competition policies and laws through research, information sharing, training, and consultations in Africa.
- Advancing economic integration and sustainable growth in the AfCFTA Market.
- Harmonizing competition regimes and regulatory laws across national, regional, and continental scales.
Addressing Pressing Competition Concerns
A robust competition policy is imperative to tackle a myriad of challenges: from international cartels that might hinder trade and competition, cross-border cartels within continental markets, to mergers between high-revenue generating firms within and outside Africa. Recognizing the growing influence of potentially dominant digital platforms, such as e-commerce and social media entities, the Protocol aims to bring them under its purview. An innovative addition to this Protocol is the introduction of a continental Competition Authority and Tribunal. While the former will investigate and act upon competition activities at the continental scale, the latter will oversee appeals against the Authority’s decisions.
AfCFTA: A Vision of Pan-African Trade
The African Continental Free Trade Area is a monumental initiative that amalgamates 55 African Union nations. Representing the world’s most extensive free trade zone by participating states, the AfCFTA envisions a harmonized market for goods and services for a demographic exceeding 1.3 billion individuals, boasting a combined GDP of roughly USD 3.4 billion.
Its aspiration is straightforward: enhance intra-Africa trade by fostering the free movement of individuals, goods, and services. By eliminating trade hindrances, such as tariffs, AfCFTA projects an upliftment of 30 million individuals from extreme poverty, and an estimated surge in Africa’s income by USD 450 billion by 2035, alongside a spike in exports by USD 560 billion.
Learning from Europe’s Success
The vision of a unified market isn’t unprecedented. The European Union, since the 1960s, has successfully integrated its member states, fostering economic collaboration and harmonizing standards for the benefit of its citizens. The aspiration for Africa mirrors these successes, envisaging seamless expansions for businesses, diversified choices for consumers, and the free movement across territories.
Africa’s Untapped Potential
Africa, rich in resources and brimming with potential, stands on the precipice of unprecedented growth. A cohesive market, facilitated by policies ensuring fair trade and competition, could spur unparalleled development for the continent. According to the SACC, the Competition Protocol is an integral component to this development.