On January 1, 2021, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) went into effect. AfCFTA will unite 55 African countries to create the largest free trade area in the world by participating countries. This agreement features an improved trading space free of tariffs and non-tariff barriers for goods, as well as increased opportunities for foreign direct investment and policy reform. The potential benefits of the AfCFTA are enormous, with the ability to lift more than 30 million people out of extreme poverty.
Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) regulatory measures for animal and plant health and food safety of agri-food products serve as an important lynchpin of the AfCFTA. Despite political commitment to the World Trade Organization’s SPS Agreement, many African countries struggle to meet their commitments to international science-based standards, which create regulatory hurdles for African producers and processors and trading partners, such as the United States. Regulatory bottlenecks, including food safety, are among the reasons that intra-African trade is estimated to be as low as 11 percent. Improved SPS systems are also critical to Africa’s transformation, as outlined by the Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The production and flow of agricultural products is critical to economic development, prosperity and food security through the continent. Improved implementation and harmonization of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) systems is critical to ensuring that any agricultural trade protects human, animal and plant health.
— Amb. Josepha Sacko
Commission for Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union Commission
From 2018 through 2019, the African Union Commission’s (AUC) Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture (DREA) led an effort to create a SPS Policy Framework for Africa for the period 2019 to 2024. It was developed in close consultation with AU Member States, Regional Economic Communities and technical and development partners – including the U.S. Agency for International Development and United States Department of Agriculture.
The Framework serves as an instrument to help AU Member States harmonize and strengthen their SPS systems to reach commitments within the AfCFTA’s SPS Chapter. The Framework provides for its implementation through clearly defined actions; roles and responsibilities; financing and resources mobilization; and monitoring, evaluation and reporting, supported by an action plan. It also outlines why a continental SPS policy harmonization is necessary and provides a comprehensive background and key issues to address, while highlights a core vision, mission, set of values, core principles and policy arena objectives and strategies.
The SPS Policy Framework’s four objectives address the diverse and intersecting needs and priorities of SPS systems in Africa, as follows:
As the AfCFTA goes into action, the AUC and its partners will work diligently to coordinate technical and financial resources to realize the Framework’s objectives, laying the foundation for improved agricultural development and trade of safe food products within Africa and beyond.
And as donor institutions and technical partners look to update their programming goals for the next few years, it is recommended that they explore the Framework and seek to tailor plans in support of its important objectives.
This blog is written by Lee Gross, International Program Specialist, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.