The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the largest in the world by membership, aims to increase trade flows of African products and services within the continent by removing tariff and non-tariff barriers. The Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade included within the scope of the Agreement establishing the AfCFTA is a first of its kind for a regional trade agreement of this scale. The inclusion of the Protocol is a concrete realization of the commitment of the Assembly of African Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) to “broaden inclusiveness” in the operation of the AfCFTA, demonstrating a novel approach to addressing gender issues within trade agreements. This article will first discuss the relevance of including gender considerations in trade agreements in supporting women’s participation in their various trade roles and in maximising the potential benefits of trade agreements as a whole; second, it will propose considerations for determining the scope and focus of the AfCFTA Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade.
Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade
Akin to the proverbial new wine in old skins, the Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade is an ingenious idea whose prospects stand to run afoul of entrenched and systemic forms of discrimination and exclusion. If successfully enacted, the instrument must find its way around economic nationalism (protectionism), vulnerabilities of infant markets in the South, dominance of neoliberal economic thinking, and State dysfunction. Short of far-reaching and deliberate institutional, policy, and legislative reforms at the individual country- and Regional Economic Community (REC) levels, the Protocol runs the risk of being another of those beautiful mechanisms printed on glossy paper, but with no tangible effects to the everyday lives of the billion Africans in whose name it was enacted.
There have been many important developments on the continent since the official start of trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in January 2021. Keen to stimulate discussion of the ambitious development objectives which have animated the AfCFTA project and their potential to be realized by the effort as currently conceived, the Institute for Global Law and Policy (IGLP) at Harvard Law School, Afronomicslaw.org, and the Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa (FLIA) at the London School of Economics and Political Science came together in early 2023 to co-sponsor a discussion series entitled “Assessing Developments in the Negotiation and Implementation of the AfCFTA”. The first session of the series was convened online by the IGLP on April 17, 2023, and centered on the Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade (the Protocol) which is currently being negotiated.