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African unions want an inclusive free trade agreement

27 May, 2019Unions are being excluded from negotiations on the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) because of a fast-track approach being used by governments. The unions are demanding that the AfCFTA should respect workers’ rights and labour standards as found in national laws and International Labour Organization Conventions. 

The agreement should also embrace the decent work agenda and respect human rights spelt out in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The AfCFTA was discussed at the annual global unions’ forum, supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, on 13-15 May in Johannesburg. Six global unions, regional confederations, a national federation, together with SASK which also supports trade union work in the region, attended the forum. The 26 participants were from nine countries.
Signed by 52 countries, the AfCFTA, a project of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 initiative, will be ratified at a ministers of trade meeting in Kampala, Uganda in June. With potential to create a market worth trillions of dollars and reaching over a billion people from 55 countries, the AfCFTA will promote intra-African trade and probably reverse the current situation in which most African countries trade with the USA, Europe and China rather than with neighbouring countries. Attempt to integrate African economies into the global economy have achieved little despite agreements including the Economic Partnership Agreements, and the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Continentally, intra-Africa trade is dominated by informal trade mainly by women.
“Unions should collectively demand commitment from the African Union to create opportunities for them to participate and influence trade policies and programmes at the national level and beyond. A transformative AfCFTA can only be achieved if negotiations are inclusive and represent relevant stakeholders, is transparent in its approach, and has the overall aim to achieve a trade agenda that is beyond the narrow interests of state parties but people-to-people centred. Such a transformative trade agenda cannot happen without the strategic and consistent involvement of civil society organizations,” said Hilma Mote from ITUC Africa.
“There is an urgent need for social dialogue on the AfCFTA. With high youth unemployment the agreement can create jobs, but these must be decent and sustainable. Social protection is also important. Further ways to monitor the agreement must be put in place,” said Paule France-Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa.