The African Union has announced that the first trade agreement of the world`s largest free trade pact, AFCFTA, will start on January 1, 2021, due to the use of virtual meetings to close ongoing discussions and negotiations. Beyond the effects of the pandemic, there is also the continent`s existing trade architecture to overcome. Today`s regional trade agreements “present narrow trading models, depend on primary products and include a low level of trade between countries,” said William Amponsah, a trade expert quoted by the United Nations. In fact, intra-African trade is dominated by a handful of countries that sell a handful of products. While this situation is improving, there remains a problem that a mere increase in intra-African trade would not solve. Several committees have been established for trade in goods, trade in services, rules of origin, trade measures, non-tariff barriers, technical barriers to trade and sanitary and phytosanitary measures.  Dispute settlement rules and procedures are still under negotiation, but they likely involve the appointment of a dispute settlement body.  The Committee of Senior Trade Officials implements the Council`s decisions. The Committee is responsible for developing programmes and action plans for the implementation of the AfCFTA agreement.
 To achieve this, AfCFTA members have committed to applying disciplines in trade in goods, including the obligation not to impose quantitative restrictions, most-favoured-nation (mutual) status and various annexes aimed at streamlining border processes, with rules on customs cooperation and mutual assistance, trade facilitation, transit facilitation and transit facilitation, and non-tariff barriers. The continental body that leads the trade deal, the African Union, said in a statement that the ongoing negotiations will be concluded by a new African virtual commercial diplomacy platform, developed in public-private partnership between the African Union Commission and more than 20 African multinationals. The main effects are informal traders, mostly small and medium-sized enterprises that operate along the Nigeria-Benin border. Nigeria`s high level of protection for products such as rice has made smuggling from neighbouring countries very lucrative. The World Bank estimates that 80% of Benin`s imports are destined for Nigeria. The closure of Nigeria`s border is in opposition to regional and international trade agreements and highlights the remaining implementation gap between regional or international trade agreement texts and the effective measures taken by some African governments. It should be seen as an early warning signal for the AfCFTA. . .