ZLECAf: the perspectives of the international legal community
Ghana is home to the African Continental Free Trade Area (“AfCFTA”) Secretariat. This is not only a symbol of confidence in the country, but also a signal that Ghana is Africa’s commercial and commercial center.1 The projected benefits of this to the international legal community are significant.
This article examines the perspectives the AfCFTA presents to the international legal community even as Ghana hosts the Secretariat. It further examines the legal relationship that will exist between Ghana and the Secretariat.
Context of AfCFTA
The AfCFTA was made necessary by one of the objectives of the African Union (AU) which is the need to accelerate “the economic integration of the continent”. The AfCFTA Agreement was signed in Kigali, Rwanda on March 21, 2018 and entered into force on May 30, 2019. The AfCFTA Secretariat was officially opened in Accra, Ghana, in January 2021.
What is the AfCFTA?
The AfCFTA is the African Union’s blueprint for achieving inclusive and sustainable development across the continent over the next 50 years. It aims to boost intra-African trade.
• Create a single market for goods and services, facilitated by the movement of people in order to deepen the economic integration of the African continent;
• Create a liberalized market for goods and services through successive rounds of negotiations;
• Contribute to the movement of capital and natural resources and facilitate investments by building on initiatives and developments undertaken by States Parties and Regional Economic Communities (RECs);
• Lay the foundations for the creation of a continental customs union at a later stage;
• Promote and achieve sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development, gender equality and structural transformation of States Parties;
• Improve the competitiveness of the economies of the States Parties on the continent and on the world market;
• Promote industrial development through the diversification and development of regional value chains, agricultural development and food security;
• Resolve the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships and accelerate regional and continental integration processes.
Prospects for the international legal community
Many opportunities exist for the international legal community, not least because Ghana hosts the Secretariat. These benefits can not only be enjoyed by lawyers, but also by law academics and even law students, some of which include:
Foreign direct investors
Ghana, which houses the Secretariat, projects the country as a peaceful and politically stable nation. This will attract more foreign investors who might choose to establish businesses in Ghana. Potential investors (clients) around the world can contact lawyers in their respective countries to facilitate doing business in Ghana. These lawyers may also need the assistance of Ghanaian lawyers to register these businesses and provide related services. These international legal links are beneficial to the legal profession.
Opportunities in dispute resolution
Disputes are inevitable with these professional organizations. Under the AfCFTA, a dispute settlement body (DSB) is supposed to settle such disputes with the help of a panel.3 The panel has the right to seek information and technical advice from any source it can ‘he considers it appropriate, 4 to request information from any relevant source. and consult with experts for their opinion on any matter.5 Lawyers, judges and legal scholars from around the world with relevant expertise can be of assistance in this regard. The knowledge and experience gained in resolving disputes from trade organizations on other continents will serve as excellent precedents and have a persuasive effect.
Academic and research collaborations
The Secretariat is required to organize training workshops and seminars for staff and States Parties to build the capacity required for the implementation of AfCFTA on the continent.6 This provides an excellent opportunity for academics in commercial law international to serve as facilitators for such seminars and trainings. New areas of academic study related to AfCFTA may also be deployed in the various law schools around the world, which will require experts and academics with the required experience to teach.
Experience in international law and exchange programs
Hosting the AfCFTA Secretariat in Ghana provides an opportunity for international law students to travel to Ghana to attend some of the international dispute resolution mechanisms and undertake internships with the Secretariat. The Secretariat will likely host most of the dispute resolution sessions that will provide law students and practitioners around the world with an opportunity to learn international trade law.
Legal relationship between Ghana and the Secretariat
The Secretariat is created as a “functionally autonomous institutional body within the AU system with an independent legal personality.” 7 The Secretariat therefore has the freedom to define its own laws and determine how it functions within the limits of the AU system and the AfCFTA Accord. .
The AfCFTA Agreement does not provide for a legal relationship between the host country and the Secretariat; nevertheless, the AU criteria for hosting AU organs adopted in July 20058 require that an agreement be signed between the Secretariat and Ghana to define the obligations, status and operations of the Secretariat.9 It further sets out the obligations of Member States hosting an AU organ. Ghana should therefore:
• Provide at its expense a secure structure of office space furnished and equipped for the Secretariat of the AfCFTA and easily accessible;
• Provide a conducive political atmosphere and adequate logistical facilities;
• Provide an appropriate and efficient modern infrastructure, in particular telecommunications facilities; and
• Provide housing, hotel accommodation and health infrastructure. Ghana is further expected to grant full diplomatic immunities and unimpeded entry and exit rights to staff and officials of the Secretariat and all other persons who may travel to Ghana to do business with the Secretariat. .
Ghana hosting the Secretariat has certain advantages and good prospects for the international legal community. The AfCFTA secretariat hosted in Ghana is a step in the right direction and the international legal community should be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities it presents.