While the establishment of a free trade area is categorically provided for as one of precursor stages to the AEC, it is appears to have been envisioned as being established primarily at the regional level (article 2 (d)), and not necessarily at the continental level. This was very much in line with the strategy to build the AEC through the RECs. The AEC Treaty did not get into the modalities of the establishment of the prospective free trade area, neither did it mention a further protocol in that regard. Whether this omission was deliberate, is subject to speculation, but perhaps it may have been based on the belief that RECs would be the drivers of free trade areas as opposed to a focused continental framework or mechanism.
Africa boasts of at least eight RECs (or potential and existing FTAs) recognised by the AU, one emerging TFTA, and, a budding AfCFTA. All these efforts are meant to lead to the realisation of the AEC
Because Ethiopia is the headquarters of the African Union its role on regional integration is usually taken as given. It is usually assumed that the state has and is making efforts to integrate with the continent. In this essay, I contend that Ethiopia’s historical engagement with regional integration has been at best passive and vague. On the contrary, its focus on regional integration at the moment seems different and active.
The first seeming obstacle to the emergence of a single African market is the contradictions between the stated aims of AfCFTA and some of the principles set out in the AfCFTA Agreement. As noted earlier, AfCFTA’s objectives include creating “a single market” and laying “the foundations for the establishment of a Continental Customs Union”. Yet, one of the principles under Article 5 is “variable geometry”, that is, differentiated integration. Of course, variable geometry was designed to recognise the heterogeneity and diversity in Africa’s economies. However, a single market is not consistent with an a la carte approach, where members integrate at different speeds.