In March 2018, African nations embarked on a historic journey to reshape their trade landscape through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Originally scheduled for implementation in mid-2020, a pandemic-induced delay pushed the launch to January 2021. Aggregating over 1.2 billion people, the AfCFTA promises to create a massive market with a combined GDP of over $3 trillion. With 54 signatories and 47 countries ratifying the agreement, the AfCFTA aims to foster a pan-African free trade zone, enhance regional development prospects, and promote intra-African trade. Key mechanisms are progressively dismantling trade barriers and promoting investment. This blog post delves into the current state of investment dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms across Africa, the potential of the AfCFTA and its investment protocol to catalyse change, and the need for a balanced multilateral approach. Through collaboration, innovation, and a commitment to equity, Africa can create a new paradigm for investment dispute resolution that truly reflects the continent's values and aspirations.
Investment Dispute Settlement
The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system in its current form has been viewed as being malignant to the Global South. Africa in particular, has been a strong critic of the system with the most radical action against ISDS coming from South Africa, which has stated that investment arbitration awards are “directly opposed to the legitimate, constitutional and democratic policies of the country”. The United Nations Commission on Trade Law (UNCITRAL) has now mandated its Working Group III (WG3) to lead ISDS reform efforts. One of the key areas of reform under the purview of WG3 is the inconsistency, incoherency, unpredictability and incorrectness of investment arbitration awards.
With regards to the Southern African Trade Law subject, works of African scholars constitute the majority of the prescribed reading materials. The examination questions are also reflective of developments around regionalism in Southern Africa, with hypotheticals on how member states can navigate trade rules and obligations. In going forward, I intend to implement a number of approaches in enhancing the pedagogy of international economic law.