The African Society of International Law (AfSIL) held its 9th Annual Conference on Africa and COVID-19 virtually, on 30 October 2020. AfSIL aims inter alia to promote international law on the continent and to contribute to the development of an international law that expresses the point of view of African States and specialists. The Conference was sponsored by law firms Foley Hoag LLP, Shikana Law Group and Asafo & Co.
This colloquium will examine Africa’s response to the pandemic, in particular, those relating to international economic law. This colloquium fills the gap left by the absence of our biennial conference in 2021 and will instead hold virtually in July 2021.
Traditional international law (IL) teaching and research has reached an inflection point (TRILA Report, 24). Content-wise it has long been monopolised by the usual suspects: sources of law, treaties, statehood, territory, jurisdiction and specific values such as universality and equality among states. The most conservative IL scholars will smirk at the thought of alternative ‘transnational’ or ‘Third World’ approaches to IL. To be fair to them, lawyers are fond of compartmentalising. We have those that do private law, public law, human rights, international economic law, law and development, business and human rights law, health law, dispute resolution law, to name a few. Yet as the current pandemic is showing this type of boxed thinking cannot provide the tools for meaningful teaching and research about today’s legal conundrums. We live in an uncertain world in which one issue can raise a myriad of legal problems that straddle multiple fields of law.
This article will briefly examine this dynamic across three interconnected dimensions: (1) flexibility and innovation in IEL agreement models, with a focus on trade agreements, that better integrate economic and social development goals and allow parties to adapt to new circumstances or phase in commitments on a more incremental basis; (2) flexibility in implementation of trade disciplines and agreements; and (3) legal and regulatory innovation that can both define and flow from IEL agreements. These three dimensions take into account both treaties themselves and how they relate to changes in law and regulation in practice, drawing a link between international agreements and their operation that is particularly important in times of change or uncertainty. In assessing dimension three, legal and regulatory innovation, which has been a focus of my work over the past decade,
Considering the ambition of the AfCFTA for deep integration, aiming at liberalizing trade in goods, services, investment, intellectual property, competition and e-commerce, and to guarantee that compliance schedules are absolute results of negotiated arrangements among African countries as opposed to the superintendence and policing of the WTO, this essay suggests that a Full Agreement pathway to notification should be considered.
The suspension of operations as a result of government measures towards curbing Covid-19, should not be encouraged. Competition agencies must remain vigilant in protecting vulnerable consumers with no bargaining power from unscrupulous businesses. Further, while cartel conduct is per se illegal, it is the responsibility of the competition agencies to provide the business community with guidance on how they can operate during the crisis and at the same time comply with competition law. Covid-19 has also proved to us that, competition agencies need to reinvent their enforcement including the adoption of digital technologies such as artificial intelligence and investing in the security and privacy concerns of the people. Integration of technology is no longer a choice.
The shortcomings of the current legal and policy framework does not mean that responses to COVID19 should be lacking. Instead, there is adequate room for responses as we learn lessons and take notes to do better. The best way to move policy and law is to ensure that it is constantly reviewed to make sure they serve their purpose.
The tragedy of the COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the frailties of African economies. COVID-19 has taught us, in the harshest way possible, that we are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us. This has compelled African leaders to recognize that regional cooperation is at the crux of the solution to the COVID-19 crisis. Hopefully, this positive momentum towards regional cooperation will extend to tackling the broader welfare issues challenging African societies.
On the 24th of March 2020, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) announced a US$3 billion facility to help its member countries weather the economic and health impacts of Covid-19. In this interview, Prof Ben Oramah, President Afreximbank, discusses this pandemic facility, the African Continental Free Trade Area, (AfCFTA) and more.
Welcome to this symposium on COVID-19 and International Economic Law in the Global South. The essays in this symposium came from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean, North America and Latin America. This symposium will last for a full four weeks because of the large number of good quality submissions we accepted.