Parliament should ratify continental free trade pact

On March 21 this year, President Emmerson Mnangagwa was one of the Heads of State and government who signed the African Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA).

Guest column: John Makamure

The protocol has now been signed by 49 of the 55 African Union (AU) member States. Despite the large number of signatories, the agreement can only come into force if it is ratified by at least 22 of the member states. Only seven countries have so far ratified and Zimbabwe is not among the countries.

Ratification is a process mainly undertaken by Parliament. The process of ratification begins with the relevant ministry obtaining approval for ratification from government.

The ministry then seeks parliamentary approval, which is a resolution of the House pursuant to a motion on the same. Thereafter, a Bill may then be gazetted to domesticate the instrument.

Domestication is about aligning domestic laws and policies with the international agreement. Section 327 of the Constitution provides that international treaties only become binding upon approval by Parliament.

So Parliament is largely to blame for the failure to ratify the AfCFTA, among other continental and regional agreements.

Arguments that the of Foreign Affairs ministry must bring the instrument to Parliament for ratification are a lame excuse.

Parliament should demand these instruments as part of its oversight role. All ministries, government agencies and departments are accountable to Parliament as provided for in Section 119 of the Constitution. So Parliament has power to enforce ratification of the agreements.

The AfCFTA is a very important protocol to promote industrialisation and intra-African trade.

The protocol is one of the flagship projects of the first 10-year implementation plan under the AU “Agenda 2063 – The Africa We Want”.

The AfCFTA is an African market of over 1,2 billion people, with a gross domestic product of $2,5 trillion. This free trade area has the potential to boost intra-African trade by 53% through elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the AfCFTA is expected to double intra-African trade from 12 % in 2012 to 25 % in 2022.

Africa is the world’s second largest and second most populous continent.

By 2050, Africa’s population is projected to reach 2 billion. About 70 of Africans are under 30 years of age and over half are females.

The AfCFTA negotiating institutions have so far held several meetings since the launch of the agreement in March.

One of the key outcomes of the meetings has been the adoption of modalities for tariff liberalisation with a level of ambition of 90% of tariff lines to be liberalised over a period of five to 10 years depending on the categories specified.

A group of seven countries requested a longer transition period of 15 years. The other outcome is the adoption of modalities for liberalisation of trade in services, with a hybrid approach of schedules of specific commitments accompanied by regulatory cooperation.

There is no doubt that the AfCFTA can be a major vehicle to accelerate Africa’s industrialisation and address what is commonly referred to as the continent’s resource curse.

This refers to the paradox that countries with an abundance of natural resources tend to experience poor economic growth and human development outcomes.
Some statistics will illustrate this paradox of plenty. Africa has approximately 30% of the earth’s remaining mineral resources.

The continent has the largest reserves of precious metals with over 40% of the gold reserves, over 60% of cobalt and 90% of platinum reserves. However, Africa is the world’s poorest and most underdeveloped continent, with a continental gross domestic product (GDP) that accounts for just 2,4% of global GDP and accounts for only 4% of global trade. In addition, Africa accounts for around 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land.

It is, therefore, high time that Members of Parliament in Zimbabwe and across the African continent become fully involved in the negotiations currently underway in order to accelerate the conclusion of the processes and ensure their full ownership.

Stakeholder ownership of the AfCFTA agreement is a pre-requisite for easier implementation and achievement of desired objectives of rapid industrialisation and free trade.

The starting point for Members of Parliament to be fully involved in the AfCFTA processes is ratification of the agreement.

Related to the issue of ratification of AfCFTA is for Parliament to ratify the protocol establishing the Pan-African Parliament (PAP).

Ratification of the PAP protocol, commonly known as Malabo Protocol, will enable it to come into force, thereby conferring full legislative powers on the continental Parliament. The PAP must have full legislative powers in order to legislate for these developments on intra-Africa trade.

However, only 18 of the 55 AU member states have so far signed the protocol, more than four years since the agreement was launched.

Only five member states, namely Gambia, Mali, Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, Sierra Leone and Togo, have so far ratified the Protocol.

Zimbabwe appended its signature to the agreement, but is still to ratify.

It is strange that Members of Parliament are failing to speedily ratify their own protocol to give themselves enough teeth. Parliaments must popularise the PAP protocol among civil society actors and the media in order to build constituencies of support that will then pressure their governments to sign and then ratify and domesticate the agreements.

Zimbabwe must move away from simply signing international agreements without ratification and domestication.

Let us fully commit ourselves to these international agreements in order to demonstrate that indeed we would like to belong to the world family of nations, and that we are truly open for business.

John Makamure is the executive director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support. Feedback: johnma@sapst.org; @john_makamure